The house of Ansorena is auctioning off a codex that Mexico denounces as “apocryphal” for 190,000 euros

The house of Ansorena is auctioning off a codex that Mexico denounces as “apocryphal” for 190,000 euros

The house of Ansorena is auctioning off a codex that

A mysterious illustrated manuscript narrating “the end of the Aztec Empire” was auctioned in Spain this Wednesday for 190,000 euros (more than four million Mexican pesos). The so-called Cardona Codex, written on hundreds of pages of Amate paper, with 300 illustrations and fold-out maps, tells of daily life in ancient Tenochtitlan and the arrival of the conquerors. According to Arnold J. Bauer, one of the researchers who has studied the play the most, the book was made by Mexican scribes around 1550. However, other scholars question the authenticity of the object, believing that its elaboration was later. The Madrid-based auction house Ansorena offered it this Wednesday with a starting price of 180,000 euros, despite the Mexican government calling it “apocryphal”. “There are those who like to see her face,” Beatriz Gutiérrez Mueller, president of the Historical Memory Advisory Council of Mexico, said after learning about the sale.

The so-called Cardona Codex appeared in the 1980s after years of disappearance and some time later found its way into a private collection in Spain. The late historian Arnold J. Bauer wrote in his book The Search for the Codex Cardona that the manuscript was made in Mexico by Aztec scribes and artists under the supervision of Catholic clergy. According to the researcher, the object was supposed to be a gift to King Carlos I. Bauer had traveled to Mexico, the United States, and Europe to document the artifact’s provenance. But the same historian, in the book published in 2009, recognized that he lacked certainty about some of the code’s mysteries. What is unknown, for example, is what happened between the date the object was allegedly created and its public appearance in 1982.

That’s one of the “alarms” that made researchers like Stephanie Woods, who wrote a 2010 paper reviewing Bauer’s book, suspicious. Another was the use of amate paper, which the researcher said was not typical of the genus of the time. Woods also questioned that it is a code: “I conclude that it fits better into the genre of relationships that convey geographic, social, political and economic information about colonial jurisdictions to the Crown in response to specific questions. ” “Maybe [Bauer] You are right, and I hope you are right, but it is not possible to verify that the manuscript is a 16th-century product,” he argued in the essay.

In the 1980s, Stanford University had offered the Codex for $6 million, but laboratory tests to determine the age of the pigments and paper were inconclusive, and the school refused to buy it. While writing his book, Bauer discovered that the object had also been offered to auction house Christie’s in New York, Sotheby’s in London, and the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, according to a University of California publication. At some point in those years, track of the codex was lost again, until it turned up in a Spanish private collection on a date not given by the auction house.

“In any case”, the company that organized the auction defends on its website, “it is a monumental work of great interest that still has many mysteries to reveal”. In describing the lot, the Spanish house affirmed that it was an “important document” that detailed “the difficult years of the end of the Aztec Empire and the Spanish colonization of Mexico.” A spokeswoman for the Ansorena company clarified to EL PAÍS by email that the company “never states the age of this codex, but offers it for sale because of its historical significance”. In 2020, the auction house had already tried unsuccessfully to market the object. In the same year, the Spanish Ministry of Culture declared the property “non-exportable”.

After the publication of the catalogue, which contains the so-called Cardona Codex, the Mexican government denounced the auction. “Following the research and analysis of various domestic and foreign scholars, the INAH specialists conclude that it is an apocryphal document, without the age and even less the authenticity with which it is offered for sale,” said Gutiérrez Mueller on Twitter. The National Institute of Anthropology and History has not provided this newspaper with any further information about the article and the analyzes carried out, but it has also shared on social media that the document “misrepresents history”. Culture Minister Alejandra Frausto had joined the criticism: “Offering goods, historical documents, forged archaeological and paleontological pieces is a practice that promotes illegal trade that violates and endangers heritage.”

The Mexican government has been promoting the restoration of cultural heritage abroad for years, and particularly during this six-year tenure. claims for the recovery of pieces such as Moctezuma’s pen from Austria; the codes of Cospi, Fiorentino or Magliabecchiano from Italy or the code of Dresden from Germany are at the center of the dispute between Mexico and other countries. Added to this is the constant struggle with the auction houses. This Tuesday, for example, an auction of 20 pieces in the French house of Millon was reported. Reconnaissance was the strategy most commonly used by authorities to recover heritage assets, State Department sources told the newspaper in February. In some cases it worked. For example, in the first three years of government, more than 5,000 pre-Hispanic pieces scattered around the world were recovered. But on others, like this Wednesday, it wasn’t enough.

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