This tutorial explains some of the visual conventions used by Central Mexican artists to depict actions, events, and states of being. These include conventions for combat, death, rulership, travel, and respect.1 We focus on examples from the Matrí­cula de Tributos and Lienzo de Tlaxcala. Many of these visual conventions were shared throughout Postclassic Mesoamerica. Parallel examples, for example, can be found in writing from Postclassic Oaxaca (see the Images of Action Ñudzavui tutorial). In a few cases, these Central Mexican visual conventions can be connected to linguistic metaphors in Nahuatl, some of which were recorded in Alonso de Molina’s 1555 Vocabulario en la Lengua Castellana y Mexicana.

By the middle of the sixteenth century, Central Mexican artists had become familiar with visual conventions from Europe, and so they incorporated these European traditions into their own creations. It is fairly obvious that the images of the Lienzo de Tlaxcala incorporate European styles and things: doublets, horses, perspectival views. At the same time, and more subtly, the artists of the Lienzo incorporated conventions developed in European art for representing melancholy, force, and the conquests of the warrior-saint Santiago. This tutorial also considers how these European visual conventions were taken up by Tlaxcalan artists for their own purposes.

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1 For an overview of Central Mexican writing in general, see Boone 2000.