Memory, Genealogy, and Land

Heraldry had a long tradition in Europe to distinguish nobles from commoners. The Spanish crown also awarded coats of arms to individuals who proved their loyalty through extraordinary military feats. Blazons were granted to the conquistadores who helped secure the conquest and also to their indigenous allies. Members of the native elite in Mexico and Peru strategically modified these insignias to retain their power under Spanish rule, often combining preconquest and European motifs.

With the advance of colonization, the indigenous elite of Mexico saw its status diminished and its lands usurped. Aware of the value that the Spanish government attached to documents, they created pictorial genealogies and maps that traced their ancestry to famous preconquest rulers, sometimes mimicking pre-Hispanic styles, formats, and materials to lend credence to their claims to privilege. (Pictorial documents were considered admissible legal documents.) Indian communities also produced codices for internal use. Although no pre-Hispanic pictorial genealogy has survived, early colonial copies and adaptations indicate that genealogies were an important pre-Hispanic pictorial genre as well. Many colonial genealogies were outright fabrications, but they prove the importance of the pre-Hispanic past in making claims in the colonial present.

In the Andes, a striking pictorial genre emerged depicting the succession of Inca kings. Commissioned by the Inca nobility in Cuzco and Lima, they served as a type of vindicatory memorial of their colonial privileges.

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Image: Marcos Chillitupa Chávez (Cuzco, active 1820-40), Folding Screen with the Genealogy of the Incas, 1837; oil on canvas; six panels, overall: 76 3/4 x 177 1/6 x 1 9/16 in. (195 x 450 x 4 cm). Cuzco Circle, Pastor Family Collection, Lima, Peru. Photo © D. Giannoni.