Tlaxcala Canvas

Tlaxcala Canvas
Tlaxcala Canvas

The work that concerns us here today, the one known as Lienzo de Tlaxcala, is one of the best examples of art as a fusion of two completely different cultures. If the artistic productions of the same place present a great diversity due to the different artistic currents that overlap each other in time, when in a certain place there is a completely different confluence of cultures -as happened with the arrival of the Spaniards to America- then, works of art as singular and special as this one that we find here are produced and in which the diversity of forms, styles and iconography tell us about the richness of two civilizations very different from each other.

The city of Tlaxcala is one of the smallest states in present-day Mexico D.F. but in pre-Columbian times the city enjoyed great popularity. Its location close to the Aztec capital made it a place of passage for the Spanish colonizers and although it is true that the locals opposed Hispanic domination in the first place, finally the city became one of the great supporters of Hernán Cortés for succeed in besieging the capital of Tenochtitlan. In exchange, the Tlaxcalans achieved a certain situation of independence and respect as long as they continued to collaborate with the Spanish conquest, as well as the title of Ciudad Loyal.


It is precisely in this context that the work we are analyzing here was made, a large cotton cloth dating from the second half of the 16th century, around the year 1552, and that it is more than five meters wide and two meters high. The piece was commissioned from a local artist by Luis de Velasco, viceroy of New Spain, in order to represent the Spanish domination in the Aztec territory as well as the collaboration with their allies.

The work is curious in that it is not configured as if it were a traditional painting, but rather the scene has been represented as a cartoon or vignettes and in it you can see both the influences western arrivals from Europe as the colonial tradition. In the center of the composition we find the coat of arms of Emperor Carlos I and under it a large cross as a symbol of Spanish rule and the imposition of the Christian religion. Surrounding the scene of the cross, in the lower center are a group of Spanish noblemen completely dressed in black, contrasting with the Aztec noblemen who join them and wear colorful clothing.

Completing the scene, the domination of the Aztecs is narrated in very simple vignettes whose representation is very didactic, which must be read from left to right and from top to bottom. Originally, three different copies of the Canvas of Tlaxcala were made, one of them was to remain in the city itself while the other two would be sent to Spain and Mexico respectively, however none of the three original canvases has been preserved and today we only know about it through later copies.

Popular topic