FIGURE 1. Warrior costumes, from folio 7r of the Matrícula de Tributos.
FIGURE 2. Mutilated bodies, from Cell 34 of the Lienzo de Tlaxcala.
FIGURE 3. Two scenes of captive-taking from the Stone of Tizoc.
FIGURE 4. A conquistador takes an indigenous warrior captive, from Cell 43 of the Lienzo de Tlaxcala.
FIGURE 5. Samson Killing a Philistine, Attributed to Jacques Bellange (1575-1616). Pen on paper. London, The British Museum, Department of Prints and Drawings, Registration Number 1947,1010.6. © The Trustees of the British Museum.
FIGURE 6. Cortés grabs a Tlaxcalan lord by the forearm: Cell 5 of the Lienzo de Tlaxcala.
FIGURE 7. A mounted European warrior tramples mutilated bodies, from Cell 9 of the Lienzo de Tlaxcala.
FIGURE 8. Santiago Matamoros charging over the dismembered bodies of Muslim warriors. Paolo de San Leocadio, panel from the altarpiece of the Iglesia Arcipestal de San Jaime, Vila-Real, Spain. 134.5 × 134.5 cm. Circa 1513-1519.
The pages of the Matrícula de Tributos, and the cells of the Lienzo de Tlaxcala, are filled with images of violence, or potential violence. The Matrícula contains dozens of images of brightly-colored warrior costumes, waiting to be worn in combat (Figure 1). The Lienzo is filled with graphic images of warfare: spears are thrust, bodies are sliced to pieces, blood gushes from wounds (Figure 2). The fact that the Matrícula is probably prehispanic, and the Lienzo created in the middle of the sixteenth century, may help explain this contrast in their representations of potential versus actual violence.
In the minds of most people today, the Aztecs are associated with human sacrifice on a massive, unprecedented scale. While this reputation is not unfounded, it is surprising how often the Aztecs downplayed human sacrifice in their own art and writing. Cecelia Klein has shown that most prehispanic images of Aztec sacrifice depict people performing autosacrifice on themselves—as opposed to sacrificing other human beings.2 Davíd Carrasco argues that discussions of human sacrifice in the Florentine Codex (a mammoth encyclopedia on prehispanic Aztec life compiled in mid-sixteenth-century Central Mexico) downplay the actual killing of humans, and spend far more time describing the dances and processions that preceded the sacrifices themselves.3 Frederico Navarrete has argued that prehispanic iconography from Central Mexico contained relatively few images of graphic violence, either in scenes of warfare or in scenes of sacrifice.4 In prehispanic art, images of warfare generally focused on images of hand-to-hand combat between one warrior and another—and above all on the moment in which one warrior captured another. This was usually represented by the victorious warrior grabbing his defeated victim by the hair. The prehispanic Stone of Tizoc, for example, contains fifteen vignettes of the Aztec emperor Tizoc (ruled 1481-1486) capturing warriors from enemy kingdoms. The emperor grabs his victims by the hair (Figure 3).5 This same visual convention—showing a victorious warrior grabbing his victim by the hair—also appears in the Lienzo de Tlaxcala, but here it is European conquistadores who capture Native American opponents (Figure 4).
Europeans had also developed their own convention for showing the domination of one person by another. In this European tradition, a stronger person displayed his control over a weaker opponent by grabbing them by the forearm.6 Figure 5, for example, is a late sixteenth-century drawing showing the Old Testament hero Samson grabbing a vanquished Philistine by the forearm. This convention also appears in Cell 5 of the Lienzo de Tlaxcala, where Cortés grabs a Tlaxcalan lord just above the wrist (Figure 6). Oddly, this not meant to be an image of conquest, but rather of alliance between Europeans and Tlaxcalans. Yet for some reason, Tlaxcalan artists chose to represent this encounter as one in which Cortes, literally, has the upper hand.
The Lienzo contains only one scene of arm-grabbing, and only two scenes of prehispanic-style hand-to-hand combat (Cells 30 and 43). In contrast, most of the Lienzo’s battle imagery focuses on steel weapons, mutilated bodies, and bloodshed. Frederico Navarrete argues that the graphic scenes of gory violence which appear in the Lienzo and other colonial documents from Central Mexico represent an iconographic innovation by indigenous artists.7 These graphic scenes were a new style of depiction created to represent the new style of warfare practiced by Europeans: warfare focused on killing and conquest, rather than on taking of captives.
Most scenes of mutilated bodies in the Lienzo show them being trampled by a European warrior mounted on a horse (Figure 7). As discussed in the Introduction to the Lienzo de Tlaxcala tutorial, Navarrete argues that these oft-repeated vignettes of horse, rider, and crushed body parts were inspired by European images of Santiago—also known as “Saint James the Moorslayer” (Figure 8)8. Saint James is often represented astride a charging horse and trampling the severed arms and turbaned heads of his Muslim foes.9 In the Lienzo, these Muslim foes are transformed into non-Tlaxcalan indigenous warriors. By including dozens of Saint-James-like images in the Lienzo (above all after the events of the central Cell 29), Tlaxcalan artists visually argued that they were good Christian converts so faithful that a Catholic saint actually fought alongside them in their battles.
2 Klein 1992.
3 Carrasco 1999, 7.
4 Navarrete 2008.
5 Orozco y Berra 1877.
6 Kranz 2001, 249.
7 Navarrete 2008.
8 Navarrete 2007, 2008.
9 On the image of Santiago in Figure 8, see Blanco Iraveda and Martínez Serrano 2008.