Imagining Mexico

Libric Representations

Surveying The West Indies


The Spanish Crown strictly barred non-Spanish subjects from traveling to Colonial Latin America. But the Englishman Thomas Gage was a Catholic friar who spent twelve years in Mexico and Guatemala beginning in 1625. After returning to England he converted to Protestantism becoming an enemy of both the Catholic Church and Spain. His travel narrative contained many details about the cities and ports of the New World that were considered valuable intelligence for the English.
Thomas Gage, The English-American, his Travail by Sea and Land…. London: R. Cotes, 1648. Fray Angélico Chávez History Library NMHM, John Bourne Collection 917.2 G133

Hernán Cortés (1485-1547) Biography


López de Gómara met Cortés in Spain and became his private chaplain in 1540. His work about the Conquest and the life of Cortés, published in 1552, was banned by King Charles V because it was thought to be too sympathetic towards the Conquistadores, who were at odds with the Spanish Crown. But dozens of editions were published outside the Spanish Empire, such as this Italian version of 1560.
Francesco Lopez di Gomara, Historia di Don Ferndinando Cortés. Venice: Francesco Lorenzini, 1560. Fray Angélico Chávez History Library NMHM, Rare Book Room 972 G631 MS

Habsburg Coat of Arms and Title page, Engravings, 1701 (Marcus Orozco, active c. 1700)


Yucatan was conquered in 1542, but parts of the Maya region remained in native hands until the end of the seventeenth century. Villagutierre y Sotomayor’s account of the Maya kingdom of Itza in northern Guatemala in 1697, was the first work that dealt solely with the Maya of Yucatan. The engraving shows the crest of the Hapsburg family, who ruled Spain for three hundred years beginning in the early sixteenth century.
Juan Villagutierre y Sotomayor, Historia de la Conquista de la Provincia de el Itza. Madrid: Lucas Antonio de Bedmar y Narvaez, 1701. Fray Angélico Chávez History Library NMHM, John Bourne Collection 972 Vil

Portrait of Hernán Cortés, Engraving 1724 (George Vertue 1684 - 1756)


A native of the Spanish region of Extremadura, Hernán Cortés came to the New World in 1504 to seek his fortune. Landing near modern day Veracruz, he explored the coast of what we now know as Mexico in 1518. This engraving is based on a portrait by the famous Italian painter Titian.
Antonio de Solis, The History of the Conquest of Mexico by the Spaniards (o. 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. 1

Portraits of Moctezuma II, and Dońa Marina, Lithograph 1942 (Miguel Covarrubias 1904-1957)



Moctezuma II ruled the Aztecs from 1502 until his death in 1520. The Aztec empire extended from central Mexico hundreds of miles to the south, to areas of modern day Oaxaca and Chiapas. Malintzin, later called Dońa Marina, played an important role as Cortés’s interpreter during the Conquest, and is today remembered as the mother of the first child born of Native American and European parents.
Bernal Díaz del Castillo et al. The Discovery and Conquest of Mexico, 1517-1521 (o. 1560). [New York]: Limited Editions Club, 1942. Fray Angélico Chávez History Library NMHM, John Bourne Collection 972.02 D5442d

Vizlipuzli Idolum Mexicanorum. Engraving by Jacob van Meurs. 1617


Huitzilopochtli, or "Hummingbird on the Left," was the Aztec tribal war god, who led them from Aztlan, their place of origin, to the lakes of Mexico, where they would found Tenochtitlan in 1325. Most Aztec images of Huitzilopochtli were made of persihable materials, like wood and amaranth dough, and did not survive the conquest. Much later writers and artists were mostly free to imagine the deity as combining traits of the Christian Devil (the cloven hooves and bat wings) with the shields and weapons that match his identity as a war god.
In: Arnodus Montanus, De Nieuwe en Onbedende Weereld. Amsterdam, 1671. Loan, Courtesy Jaime Ortiz