Codice Osuna—De Luna Expedition to Florida in 1561

One of the few Mesoamerican Manuscripts Relating to U.S. History

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104. [CODEX OSUNA]. Pintura del gobernador, alcades y regidores de México. Códice en geroglíficos mexicanos y en lenguas castellana y azteca, existente en la Biblioteca del Excmo. Señor Duque de Osuna. Publícase por vez primera con la autorización competente. Madrid: Imprenta de Manuel G. Hernández, San Miguel, 23, bajo, 1878. [1-5] 6-10 pp. (text) + 40 unnumbered leaves (hand-colored lithograph facsimile of the codex consisting of illustrations, writing in Spanish and Nahuatl, a few pages blank, as in the original codex). Folio (41 x 28.2 cm), contemporary full tree sheep, red leather spine label. Binding worn at spine and corners, hinges starting, interior very fine except for occasional light stains.

     First printing, limited edition (#27 of 100 copies) of the 1565 codex from Mexico City, Tlatelolco, Tacuba, D.F., and Tula, Hidalgo. Glass, p. 178 & 676: “The codex forms part of an inquiry into the conduct of the Indian and Spanish governments of Mexico City by the Visitador Valderrama in 1565.” Leclerc, Bibliotheca Americana (1878-1881) 2903. Palau 226757. Pilling 2579 & 3012. Codice Osuna is a post-conquest indigenous document discovered in the library of Mariano Téllez-Girón y Beaufort-Spontin (1814-1882), Spanish diplomat, unbridled spendthrift, and twelfth Duke of Osuna. After his death in 1882, the codex migrated to the Biblioteca Nacional in Madrid. The preface to this printed version indicates that it is a fragment of a larger work, thought to be lost. Some of the purported lost materials were included in the 1947 edition edited by Luis Chávez Orozco, published in Mexico by Gráfica Panamericana.

     Codice Osuna was part of the documentary evidence gathered between ca. 1563-1566 and offered by native artisans and officials in litigation against Spanish authorities in Mexico (ca. 1564-1567). Complaints by Native officials representing their barrios reveal in sharp and dark relief Native perceptions of their social, economic, and political interactions with Spanish authorities. The codex contains hieroglyphs and written explanations in Spanish and Nahuatl, including glyphs of towns, which are important for geographic studies. Codice Osuna is one of the few Mesoamerican pictorial manuscripts to contain references to events relating to the history of the continental United States.

     Among the information collected to discredit the Spanish authorities is a complaint that Native Americans who went on an expedition to Florida were never compensated. This concerns early Spanish efforts to establish a settlement on the northern coast of the Gulf of Mexico (1559-1561) to counter growing French interests in America. Preceded by two scouting parties, Tristán de Luna y Arellano (d. 1573) sailed from Veracruz to Florida in eleven vessels with 240 horses and a culturally diverse party of approximately 1,500 persons, including veterans of the De Soto expedition, at least one native woman from the Coosa country, about a hundred Aztec warriors, and many Tlaxcalan farmers. The colony was abandoned five weeks after their arrival in 1561 due to warring tribes, famine, and a devastating hurricane. This expedition represents a very early colonization attempt in the present United States. Spanish aspirations were realized four years later with the arrival of Admiral Pedro Menéndez de Avilés in what is now St. Augustine, the oldest continuously settled city established by Europeans in the continental United States.

     The leaf relating to Florida includes an illustration of four warriors with swords and shields marching resolutely behind a Spanish military leader on horseback carrying a flag emblazoned with the Aztec eagle perched on a cactus and dangling a snake in its beak. Enrique Florescano references this flag in conjunction with his discussion of Spanish attempts to suppress such “idolatrous” imagery and substitute instead Christian iconography (La Bandera Mexicana: Breve Historia de su formación y simbolismo, Mexico: FCE, 2004, p. 56).

     The fascinating reference to Florida in a Mesoamerican codex should not detract from the entire content of the work, which consists of seven discrete documents relating to matters such as unpaid deliveries of lime used in constructing colonial architecture in Mexico City, bitter personal grievances against Oider Puga, glyphs of towns formerly tributary to Tacuba, etc. For instance, George Kubler used glyphs from this codex as illustrations of early colonial Mexican architecture in his brilliant classic, Mexican Architecture of the Sixteenth Century (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1948).


Sold. Hammer: $1,000.00; Price Realized: $1225.00.

Auction 23 Abstracts

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