The Search for the Codex Cardona

by Arnold J. Bauer

The Search for the Codex Cardona Synopsis

In The Search for the Codex Cardona, Arnold J. Bauer tells the story of his experiences on the trail of a cultural treasure, a Mexican painted book that first came into public view at Sotheby's auction house in London in 1982, nearly four hundred years after it was presumably made by Mexican artists and scribes. On folios of amate paper, the Codex includes two oversized maps and 300 painted illustrations accompanied by text in sixteenth-century paleography. The Codex relates the trajectory of the Nahua people to the founding of the capital of Tenochtitlan and then focuses on the consequences of the Spanish conquest up to the 1550s. If authentic, the Codex Cardona is an invaluable record of early Mexico. Yet there is no clear evidence of its origin, what happened to it after 1560, or even where it is today, after its last known appearance at Christie's auction house in New York in 1998. Bauer first saw the Codex Cardona in 1985 in the Crocker Nuclear Laboratory at the University of California, Davis, where scholars from Stanford and the University of California were attempting to establish its authenticity. Allowed to gently lift a few pages of this ancient treasure, Bauer was hooked. By 1986, the Codex had again disappeared from public view. Bauer's curiosity about the Codex and its whereabouts led him down many forking paths-from California to Seville and Mexico City, to the Firestone Library in Princeton, to the Getty Museum in Los Angeles and Christie's in New York-and it brought him in contact with an international cast of curators, agents, charlatans, and erudite book dealers. The Search for the Codex Cardona is a mystery that touches on issues of cultural patrimony, the workings of the rare books and manuscripts trade, the uncertainty of archives and evidence, and the ephemerality of the past and its remains.

The Search for the Codex Cardona Press Reviews

This book is a gripping tale of intrigue, contraband, covert operations, and a bit of conjecture. . . . In many ways it is a tale that many Latin American historians might dream of writing, about a chance encounter with a manuscript, a colorful character, or a hidden archive, but few of us ever do it. Bauer has. -- John F. Schwaller * The Americas * One can sense the author's fun in writing this work and his enjoyment in speculating on the countless explanations concerning ownership of the manuscript, its survival over the centuries, and its contemporary location. Veterans of archival work will particularly appreciate his attempts to discover more (or any) information about the numerous historical surprises within the Cardona. For other readers, however, the great merit of this book will be its struggle with the moral and ethical issues facing museums, libraries, and universities trying to build research collections and preserve records of the past. . . . For scholars of colonial Latin American history, what a story to enjoy ourselves and to present to our students to contemplate! -- James A. Lewis * Hispanic American Historical Review * In 1985, in a private room in the Crocker Laboratory at the University of California at Davis, Bauer glimpsed a priceless antiquity: the Codex Cardona, a book painted by an Aztec scribe only a few years after Cortes's arrival. . . . Bauer . . . passes through shady middlemen and well-connected connoisseurs ( Here in Mexico we can falsify anything, one assures Bauer) in his quest to locate and authenticate the book. The Codex disappears; but during his hunt Bauer manages to convey Mexico's odd and powerful charisma. -- Benjamin Moser * Harper's * As in the best suspense novels, Bauer begins in the middle of the action. . . . His intriguingly conspiratorial tone enables the reader to be privy to his search for the answers to the scholarly riddles. . . . For readers who wish to learn about early contact-era Mexican painted manuscripts and how scholarly inquiry is conducted, this work has much to offer. It should also find a readership with those who like mystery mixed with their history and with readers who enjoy narratives on the search for lost rarities. . . . -- Library Journal [P]art mystery story, part fantasy and part history. . . . The book reads like a novel rather than a historical tract. -- Alan R. Sandstrom * Times Higher Education Supplement * The Search for the Codex Cardona is an amusing, informative, and novelistic scholarly book. It develops its topic rapidly with concise and short sentences, which makes it easy to read. This book could serve undergraduate students and lay readers as an introduction to Mexican painted books and graduate students and scholars as an introduction to the virtually unknown and now lost Codex Cardona, a possibly invaluable source of information about the Aztecs. In this sense, The Search for the Codex Cardona makes a unique contribution in that it focuses not on an available scholarly resource but on one that has never been available and that may no longer exist. -- Jongsoo Lee, The Latin Americanist [T]he Search for the Codex Cardona is a superbly written thriller, of which any novelist would be proud. Once you begin it you will not wish to be disturbed! -- David J. Robinson * Journal of Latin American Geography * The Search for the Codex Cardona is a terrific read. I could hardly put it down. If the Codex is real, and I came to believe that it probably is authentic, then it is the most important document of the early colonial world to have come to light since the Florentine Codex surfaced in Italy in the late nineteenth century. -Mary Miller, Dean of Yale College and author of The Art of Mesoamerica: From Olmec to Aztec As in the best suspense novels, Bauer begins in the middle of the action. . . . His intriguingly conspiratorial tone enables the reader to be privy to his search for the answers to the scholarly riddles. . . . For readers who wish to learn about early contact-era Mexican painted manuscripts and how scholarly inquiry is conducted, this work has much to offer. It should also find a readership with those who like mystery mixed with their history and with readers who enjoy narratives on the search for lost rarities. . . . - Library Journal [P]art mystery story, part fantasy and part history. . . . The book reads like a novel rather than a historical tract. - Alan R. Sandstrom, Times Higher Education Supplement In 1985, in a private room in the Crocker Laboratory at the University of California at Davis, Bauer glimpsed a priceless antiquity: the Codex Cardona, a book painted by an Aztec scribe only a few years after Cortes's arrival. . . . Bauer . . . passes through shady middlemen and well-connected connoisseurs ( Here in Mexico we can falsify anything, one assures Bauer) in his quest to locate and authenticate the book. The Codex disappears; but during his hunt Bauer manages to convey Mexico's odd and powerful charisma. - Benjamin Moser, Harper's [T]he Search for the Codex Cardona is a superbly written thriller, of which any novelist would be proud. Once you begin it you will not wish to be disturbed! - David J. Robinson, Journal of Latin American Geography One can sense the author's fun in writing this work and his enjoyment in speculating on the countless explanations concerning ownership of the manuscript, its survival over the centuries, and its contemporary location. Veterans of archival work will particularly appreciate his attempts to discover more (or any) information about the numerous historical surprises within the Cardona. For other readers, however, the great merit of this book will be its struggle with the moral and ethical issues facing museums, libraries, and universities trying to build research collections and preserve records of the past. . . . For scholars of colonial Latin American history, what a story to enjoy ourselves and to present to our students to contemplate! - James A. Lewis, Hispanic American Historical Review This book is a gripping tale of intrigue, contraband, covert operations, and a bit of conjecture. . . . In many ways it is a tale that many Latin American historians might dream of writing, about a chance encounter with a manuscript, a colorful character, or a hidden archive, but few of us ever do it. Bauer has. - John F. Schwaller, The Americas The Search for the Codex Cardona is an amusing, informative, and novelistic scholarly book. It develops its topic rapidly with concise and short sentences, which makes it easy to read. This book could serve undergraduate students and lay readers as an introduction to Mexican painted books and graduate students and scholars as an introduction to the virtually unknown and now lost Codex Cardona, a possibly invaluable source of information about the Aztecs. In this sense, The Search for the Codex Cardona makes a unique contribution in that it focuses not on an available scholarly resource but on one that has never been available and that may no longer exist. - Jongsoo Lee, The Latin Americanist

Book Information

ISBN: 9780822345961
Publication date: 1st July 2009
Author: Arnold J. Bauer
Publisher: Duke University Press
Format: Hardback
Pagination: 208 pages
Categories: History of the Americas, Antiques & collectables: books, manuscripts, ephemera & printed matter,

About Arnold J. Bauer

Arnold J. Bauer is Professor Emeritus in the Department of History at the University of California, Davis.

More About Arnold J. Bauer

Share this book