Relación de Michoacán was crafted between 1539 and 1541 in Tzintzuntzan, Michoacán, Mexico. Also known as Michoacán Relation, this manuscript is significant in narrating the chronology, beliefs, culture, politics, and civil and territorial structure of the Tarascan people inhabiting this area of Mesoamerica at the time of the arrival of Europeans. Vibrant hand-painted images and Spanish copy combine to present an appreciation of the indigenous history, sense of place, and ethnology of the region from 1220 through 1530. Images incorporate both the local ethnic iconography and visual devices used in European treatises.
Content of the manuscript came from the oral history and legends of the Uanacaze, an ethnic group in the region, that were passed down by nobles in the P’urhépecha language and then translated into Spanish. A complex document, it reads as a letter to officials while telling an epic story at the same time. It is one of the few remaining illustrated texts produced in Postcolonial Mexico, serving as a report of the territory to governing officials. Relación de Michoacán contains 139 folios of European produced linen-fiber paper. The manuscript measures 20.5 x 14.5 cm.
Visually Annotated Report of Ethnic Life
Brilliantly colored in vegetal and animal pigments of blue, red, green, and ochre, the 44 illustrations depict events such as sacred ceremonies, historical events, the daily lives of people, and religious and political leaders in regalia. Mesoamerican pictorial traditions are reflected in the rendering of costume, landscapes, and architecture.
The use of the Tree of Jesse to explain the genealogy of Uanacaze leader Don Pedro is an indication that the creators had access to illustrations of European sources and that the manuscript content was directed at a European audience. The text was completed first with the images being inserted onto the pages afterword.
Contributors and Scribes Educated by the Clergy
Produced by Franciscan friar Jeronimo de Alcala (1508-1545) at the request of Don Antonio de Mendoza (1493-1552), the viceroy of New Spain, the manuscript was created to promote the understanding of ethnic traditions and society of the Lake Pátzcuardo territory as a means of settling land and labor disputes.
The native scribes and artists were most likely trained clerics who came to this region. Written in the Rotunda style script, scholars have determined that 4 scribes wrote the text and may have also been the artists.
An Ethnology in Three Parts
Originally the contents were in three parts. Part 1 covered information on religious ceremonies, most of the contents were removed with only one page surviving. It is now bound in Part 2 containing the history of the late Pre-Columbian period. Part 2 is complete. Part 3 contains descriptions of customs and historical events.
Scholars believe some pages from this section were removed and rearranged. Currently folios in Part 3 are bound before those of Part 2. The manuscript arrived in Spain during the sixteenth century and has undergone several restorations. It is in the collection of the Real Biblioteca de San Lorenzo de El Escorial.
Relación de Michoacán was bound at the Real Biblioteca de San Lorenzo de El Escorial. The light golden brown leather binding is decorated with the emblem of the monastery. Pages are trimmed and edged in gold.