Imagining Mexico

Architecture of the Aztecs

Cortés received by Moctezuma II , Engraving 1724 (Jacobus Schijnvoet 1685-1733)


Hernán Cortés met emperor Moctezuma II on a causeways leading to Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec empire, on November 8, 1519. Although there are no known images of the meeting, it was commonly depicted in accounts of the Conquest, such as that of Antonio Solis. Moctezuma II is depicted here the way many European artists of the period showed Native Americans, dressed in a feather skirt and a feather headdress. The emperor’s pointed crown is an accurate detail.
Don Antonio de Solis, The History of the Conquest of Mexico by the Spaniards (1684). Translated from the original Spanish by Thomas Townsend (...). London: Printed for John Osborn, at the Golden Ball in Pater-Noster Row, 1724. Fray Angélico Chávez History Library NMHM, John Bourne Collection 972.02 S687Et v. 2

El Templo Mayor de Megico, Engraving 1826 (unknown artist)


Mexican Jesuit priest Francisco Clavigero and all other Jesuits were expelled by King Charles III in 1767. In exile, he wrote this influential and illustrated history, published first in Italian in 1780. One image is a fanciful imagination of the Aztec Great Temple, with the twin shrines likened to European bell towers and the platforms connected at each corner. The Great Temple was rediscovered in 1980, and excavations revealed many details about its construction and height unknown in the 1820s.
Francisco Saverio Clavigero, Historia Antigua de Megico. London: R. Ackermann, 1826. Fray Angélico Chávez History Library NMHM, Rare Book Room 972.01 C617 1826 v. 1

La Grand Temple du Mexique, Engraving 1691 (unknown artist)


This image of the Aztec Great Temple published in an early French edition of Solis’s work, shows the most important temple in Tenochtitlan, dedicated to the war god Huitzilopochtli, and to Tlaloc, a deity of rain and the earth. The great temple is shown without its twin staircases and large twin shrines, which were largely forgotten by seventeenth century. But no one forgot the human sacrifices that took place at the temple, as can be seen in this engraving.
Antoine de Solis, Histoire de la Conquęte du Mexique. Paris: Maurice Villery, 1691. Fray Angélico Chávez History Library NMHM, John Bourne Collection 972.02 S687h

Guiengola Ruins, Graphite drawing with wash, ca. 1825 (Agostino Aglio 1777 - 1857, after José Luciano Castańeda, active early 19th century)


At the beginning of the 19th century, King Charles IV ordered a survey of ancient ruins of New Spain. Guillermo Dupaix, accompanied by the artist Castańeda visited sites like Mitla, Monte Alban, Palenque. This drawing shows one of the pyramids ruins of Guiengola in 1807. The report remained unpublished until after Mexican independence, when Irish antiquary Lord Kingsborough had Agostino Aglio prepare Castańeda's drawings and Dupaix's text for publication in The Antiquities of Mexico.
Origianl drawing, reproduced in Edward King Kingsborough, Antiquities of Mexico. London: A. Aglio, 1830 - 1848. Illustrated by Augustine Aglio. V. 4, plate 7. Fray Angélico Chávez History Library NMHM, John Bourne Collection (uncatalogued)