Flora Incognita: Picturing Nature in the New World
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CitationRojas, Alejandra. 2020. Flora Incognita: Picturing Nature in the New World. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractThis dissertation examines some of the first images of New World nature produced after the Spanish conquest. In the sixteenth century, the Spanish Crown and the Catholic Church sponsored the production of four manuscripts that roughly conformed to the European genre of the herbal: Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo y Valdés’ Historia Natural y General de las Indias (compiled and corrected between 1539-1548), Juan Badiano’s and Martin de la Cruz’s Libellus de Medicinalibus Indorum Herbis of 1552, Francisco Hernández’s De Antiquitatibus Novae Hispaniae, compiled between 1571 and 1576, and book eleven of Bernardino de Sahagún’s Historia general de las Cosas de Nueva España (also known as the Florentine Codex), produced between 1578 and 1580. Each involved indigenous participation to varying degrees. These documents demonstrate how text and image enabled European naturalists and clerics to identify, translate, and appropriate indigenous knowledge. More importantly, the stylistic wavering between Nahua (Aztec) and European systems of representation in these manuscripts indicates a position taken by colonial artists in relation to the pre-conquest past. For the indigenous artists, some of their stylistic choices reveal an embrace of a pre-conquest identity; others distance the artists from practices and beliefs of the pre-conquest period deemed unacceptable in the new colonial order. While the indigenous artists attempted to reconcile themselves and their world to European religious, social, and scientific structures, the challenge for European artists was how to reconcile those structures with new and unknown forms of nature. In some instances, European artists emphasized indigenous pictorial language to make their depictions more wondrous, while at others they attempted to make the nature of the New World seamlessly coherent with that of the Old. As their variable stylistic choices demonstrate, all of these artists were negotiating their place within the new colonial order. My project posits a connection between the representation of New World flora and new forms of identity, redefining the place of botany in sixteenth-century Hispanic studies. Through a systematic visual analysis of images of plants across all four manuscripts, I reposition these often-marginalized images as a privileged window into the dynamics of post-conquest subject formation, both Spanish and Nahua.
Citable link to this pagehttps://nrs.harvard.edu/URN-3:HUL.INSTREPOS:37365879
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