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INAH facsimile edition of the Tonalamatl de Aubin

The extraordinary story of the Tonalamatl de Aubin (3)

This is the concluding part of our story of the codex known as the Tonalamatl de Aubin, and of its little known, secret journey from Mexico to France - and back again... (Written by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

Pic 1: Antonio Peñafiel and the title page of his book ‘Monumentos del Arte Mexicano Antiguo’
Pic 1: Antonio Peñafiel and the title page of his book ‘Monumentos del Arte Mexicano Antiguo’ (Click on image to enlarge)

Peñafiel - a distinguished Mexican scientist and scholar - was on a mission to recover Aubin’s collection for Mexico, and after Boban and Goupil left the house, Peñafiel returned to offer to purchase Aubin’s whole collection with funds from the Mexican government - ‘within days’. Aubin was by now old and impoverished (having lost a small fortune in the Panama canal fiasco). ‘According to Boban’s version of the events, Peñafiel had told Aubin to keep silent about the deal, especially with regard to Boban. But the aging and fearful Aubin could not hold his tongue about the possible sale. He told Boban that he was in dire straits and had decided to sell his collection for cash. Boban asked him to give him two days and to make no decision before he could see him again. Aubin agreed and Boban went straight to E. Eugène Goupil.’ (ibid: 254).

Pic 2: The Exposition Universelle, Paris, 1889
Pic 2: The Exposition Universelle, Paris, 1889 (Click on image to enlarge)

When Goupil bought the Aubin manuscripts – all 384 of them, including the Tonalamatl - for 20,000 francs on 11 April 1889 he and Boban had succeeded in ‘triumphantly snatching the collection from under Peñafiel’s nose, blocking the return of the precious manuscripts to their country of origin’. With this success, Goupil and Boban were able to exhibit at the Exposition not only the artefacts collection but also specially mounted, large-format photographs of Aubin’s painted manuscripts, in a separate building to the Mexican pavilion, the ‘section de l’Exposition retrospective du Travail’ (Boban 1893: 20) (pic 3).

Pic 3: Plan of he section ‘du Travail’, Exposition Universelle, Paris
Pic 3: Plan of he section ‘du Travail’, Exposition Universelle, Paris (Click on image to enlarge)

The display was promoted as ‘Mexique… Collection de photographies representant des antiquités diverses et plusieurs manuscrits de la collection Aubin’ (Exposant, M. Goupil) under Ethnography, directed by Dr. E. Hamy.
Interestingly, Boban also mentions an exhibition section on the ‘Fabrication du Papier d’agave par les Aztèques’ as well as a section on the history of writing.

Pic 4: ‘Documents pour servir à l’histoire du Mexique...’ with its Atlas of images
Pic 4: ‘Documents pour servir à l’histoire du Mexique...’ with its Atlas of images (Click on image to enlarge)

Goupil then planned to employ Boban to catalogue and survey the entire collection in a publication, which ended up being ‘a two-volume, six-hundred-page tour de force’ (Walsh 2019: 255), the Documents pour servir à l’histoire du Mexique – Catalogue Raisonné de la Collection de M.E. Eugène Goupil, with its Atlas of 80 photographic reproductions of the manuscripts (for an example, see pic 6). ‘Published in 1891, it has since become a primary reference resource on the subject of Mexican pre-Columbian codices and manuscripts’ (ibid: 255).

Pic 5: One of the photoreprodutions from the Tonalamatl de Aubin in the Boban ‘Atlas’, with Boban’s original catalogue number of the codex ‘18-19’ in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France
Pic 5: One of the photoreprodutions from the Tonalamatl de Aubin in the Boban ‘Atlas’, with Boban’s original catalogue number of the codex ‘18-19’ in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (Click on image to enlarge)

The 1891 catalogue included photoreproductions of two pages (3 and 20) from the Tonalamatl - numbered 18-19 in the catalogue). Following Boban’s original listing, ‘18-19’ is the entry number for the codex in the National Library of France (BNF)’s records (the original Codex Xolotl is listed as no. 1-10, and León y Gama’s copy of the Tonalamatl is no. 19bis).

Pic 6: The Tonalamatl de Aubin was Number 1 in Goupil’s collection of Mexican manuscripts; shown here are pages 16-15 as reproduced in the ‘Atlas’
Pic 6: The Tonalamatl de Aubin was Number 1 in Goupil’s collection of Mexican manuscripts; shown here are pages 16-15 as reproduced in the ‘Atlas’ (Click on image to enlarge)

The leading American ethnologist Daniel Garrison Brinton met Boban, Aubin and Goupil, and was hugely impressed by Boban’s ‘Documents…’ with its atlas. He describes the Tonalamatl as ‘the famous Tonalamatl, or “Book of Days”… an original hieroglyphic book of eighteen leaves, magnificently coloured in red, black, green and brown… None of the documents in the collection presents to the eye a more striking appearance than this venerable pictograph…’ (Brinton 1893).
Three years after the death of Eugène Goupil, in 1895, his widow, Augustine Élie, donated his collection – including 24 original manuscripts from Boturini’s trove (Galarza & Bejarano, n.d.: 187) - to the BNF in August 1898.
And there it was to remain for the best part of a century until…

Pic 7: José Luis Castañeda speaking on Mexican TV in 1982
Pic 7: José Luis Castañeda speaking on Mexican TV in 1982 (Click on image to enlarge)

History 20th & 21st centuries (1982-present)

… late one afternoon, on Friday 18th June 1982, 36-yr-old Mexican lawyer, José Luis Castañeda del Valle (pic 7), one of 19 lawyers who founded the Barra de Abogados de Quintana Roo, strolled into the BNF, stole the original Tonalamatl and returned to Mexico with it!

Pic 8: Richelieu Library - Manuscripts Reading Room, Blbiothèque Nationale de France, Paris
Pic 8: Richelieu Library - Manuscripts Reading Room, Blbiothèque Nationale de France, Paris (Click on image to enlarge)

Of course, there’s more to it than that. Castañeda had, it seems, originally planned to take, the previous day, the (Maya) Paris Codex and had made several preliminary visits to the Library to gain the confidence of the staff there. Initially he been refused permission by the head of the historical manuscripts section to see – and photograph – any of the original codices in the BNF, but as he claimed professional status (including as a journalist) and provided photo ID and proof of his home address in Cancún, Mexico, permission was subsequently granted. On an impulse – he recounted later to Mexican news outlet Noticiero 24 horas - ‘decidí yo al siguiente día, traerme el Tonalamatl o Libro de la Buenaventura, de origen Tolteca o Azteca’.

Pic 9: Two sections of the Carmen Aguilera facsimile edition of the Tonalamatl de Aubin
Pic 9: Two sections of the Carmen Aguilera facsimile edition of the Tonalamatl de Aubin (Click on image to enlarge)

It wasn’t until the following week that the loss was discovered, and local police and Interpol were called in, to search for Castañeda. He had been aided by the fact that the codex was stored – as many such precious manuscripts are around the world – in its own bespoke box, which he calmly handed in (empty) along with other materials at the end of his visit, having concealed the original under his jacket (or was it a sarape, as some claimed at the time?!). Franch (1992: 85) suggests that he cunningly swapped the original for a fine facsimile – the edition by Carmen Aguilera, which conveniently had just been published the previous year. We’ll probably never know – for the record, the BNF lists the Aguilera facsimile edition in its manuscript holdings! Incidentally, we’ve been told that the Tonalamatl’s bespoke box ‘is no more’ in the BNF: perhaps, in the light of events, this is understandable…

Pic 10: The Bibliothèque Richelieu today...
Pic 10: The Bibliothèque Richelieu today... (Click on image to enlarge)

Castañeda was arrested at his home in Cancún on 16th August 1982, where he was said to be running a small newspaper, and detained for two days. He surrendered the Tonalamatl to the Procuraduría Federal de Justicia and claimed that he had intended all along to hand the codex to the Mexican authorities. He told one reporter ‘It was stolen from Mexico, and now we have recovered stolen property’. However the simple fact that he kept the valuable codex at home for two months and only handed it in when arrested made many suspect that he planned to sell it on the lucrative antiquities market. Inevitably, a diplomatic row broke out between Mexico and France – the former portraying Castañeda as a hero, the latter labelling him a common criminal.

Pic 11: Excerpt from UNESCO’s statement on Culture, World Conference on Cultural Policies, 1982
Pic 11: Excerpt from UNESCO’s statement on Culture, World Conference on Cultural Policies, 1982 (Click on image to enlarge)

Whilst a legal accord existed between Mexico and the USA to control trafficked cultural artefacts, no such agreement existed between Mexico and France. Following UNESCO’s sixth World Conference on Cultural Policies – ironically held in Mexico City that summer and at which an important focus was a call for the ‘restitution of cultural property’ between member states, a spokesman for the French Embassy in New York stated that ‘Here we’re dealing with a common crime. Our reaction is the same as Britain with the Falklands: there was a theft and we cannot accept a theft’ (Riding 1982).

Pic 12: ... and the Bibliothèque Richelieu towards the end of the 19th century
Pic 12: ... and the Bibliothèque Richelieu towards the end of the 19th century (Click on image to enlarge)

The eminent French historian Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, director of the BNF in the mid-‘80s, refused to allow any Mexican to cross the threshold of the Library again, and demanded the return of the manuscript on a legal basis: it had been in the BNF since 1898, donated by the Eugène Goupil’s widow in accordance with her husband’s will.

Pic 13: The original Tonalamatl de Aubin is prepared for exhibition in Mexico City in 2014
Pic 13: The original Tonalamatl de Aubin is prepared for exhibition in Mexico City in 2014  (Click on image to enlarge)

It wasn’t until almost a decade later, in 1991, that the two countries were able to reach a ‘technical’ understanding, allowing cultural exchanges, scholarships and mutual cooperation to recommence – and the symbolic ‘handing over’ of the original Tonalamatl to Roberto García Moll, director of Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) by Pierre Charasse, a high-ranking French diplomat.
Essentially, the codex today ‘belongs’ to France, but is on permanent loan to Mexico. A further rapprochement occurred when the original was put on public display in Mexico City’s National Museum of Anthropology (to mark its 50th anniversary) in September 2014 – Mexico prudently sought France’s approval at the time.

Pic 14: Poster announcing the 50th anniversary of the founding of Mexico’s Museo Nacional de Antropología e Historia
Pic 14: Poster announcing the 50th anniversary of the founding of Mexico’s Museo Nacional de Antropología e Historia (Click on image to enlarge)

Bilateral links improved again in 2018 when INAH published a 5m 30cm long facsimile edition of the Tonalamatl, hand made in San Pablito Pahuatlan (a Nahua community with a long tradition of native paper-making). According to Baltazar Brito, a ‘cultural agreement’ was signed at the time between the two respective Ministries of Culture.

Pic 15: Presentation of the INAH facsimile edition of the Tonalamatl de Aubin, 2018
Pic 15: Presentation of the INAH facsimile edition of the Tonalamatl de Aubin, 2018 (Click on image to enlarge)

Choosing his words carefully at the presentation of INAH’s facsimile edition (pic 15), Brito noted that the original codex had come to Mexico as a result of ‘avatares del destino’ – what we might euphemistically call in English ‘twists of fate’…

Special thanks in the preparation of this article are due to Jane Walsh, anthropologist emerita at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History. Thanks also to John O’Neill, Head Rare Books Librarian, Hispanic Society of America, New York.

Pic 17: Library card for a hand-drawn 1890 copy of the Codex Aubin in the Royal Library of Berlin; note the reference to the ‘careful work’ of Antonio Peñafiel and his son Julio (in drawing the copy)
Pic 17: Library card for a hand-drawn 1890 copy of the Codex Aubin in the Royal Library of Berlin; note the reference to the ‘careful work’ of Antonio Peñafiel and his son Julio (in drawing the copy) (Click on image to enlarge)

Sources/References:-
1) BOOKS & JOURNAL ARTICLES
• Achim, Miruna (2013) ‘Maleta de doble fondo y colección de antigüedades, Ciudad de México ca. 1839’, pp. 99-126 in Achim, M. & Podgorny, Irina (Eds.) Museos al detalle: colecciones, antigüedades e historia natural 1790-1870, Prohistoria Ediciones, Rosario, Argentina
• --- (2017) From Idols to Antiquity: Forging the National Museum of Mexico, University of Nebraska Press
• Alcina Franch, José (1992) Códices Mexicanos, Editorial MAPFRE, Madrid
• Berger, Uta (1998) Mexican Painted Manuscripts in the United Kingdom, British Museum Occasional Paper no. 91, London
• Boban, Eugène André (1893) Documents pour servir à l’histoire du Mexique - Catalogue Raisonné de la Collection de M.E. Eugène Goupil, Ernest Leroux, Paris
• Bullock, William (1824) A Description of the Unique Exhibition, called Ancient Mexico Collected on the Spot in 1823, by the Assistance of the Mexican Government, and Now Open for Public Inspection at the Egyptian Hall, Piccadilly, J. Bullock, London,
• --- (1825) Six Months Residence and Travels in Mexico, 2nd. ed., two volumes. John Murray, London
• Cañizares-Esguerra, Jorge (2019) ‘Lorenzo Boturini, idea of a New General History of North America’, Catholic Historical Review, 105, 178-9
• Glass, John B. (1975a) ‘The Boturini Collection’ pp. 473-486 in Cline, Howard F. (Ed.) Handbook of Middle American Indians, vol. 15, Guide to Ethnohistorical Sources, Part 4, University of Texas Press
• --- and Robertson, Donald (1975b) ‘A Census of Native Middle American Pictorial Manuscripts’ pp. 81-252 in Cline, Howard F. (Ed.) Handbook of Middle American Indians, vol. 14, Guide to Ethnohistorical Sources, Part 3, University of Texas Press
• Greenfield, Jeannette (1995) The Return of Cultural Treasures, 2nd. ed., Cambridge University Press
• Quiñones Keber, Eloise (2001) ‘Aubin Tonamalatl’, pp. 61-62 in Carrasco, D. (Ed.) The Oxford Encylopedia of Mesoamerican Cultures, vol. 1, Oxford University Press
• Rickards, Constantine George (1910) The Ruins of Mexico, vol. 1, H.E. Shrimpton, London
• Seler, Eduard (1900) - introduction and explanatory text to The Tonalamatl of the Aubin collection: an old Mexican picture manuscript in the Paris national library (manuscrits mexicains no. 18-19): published at the expense of... the Duke of Loubat, Hazell, Watson & Winey, Berlin/London
• Sten, María (1979) Codices of Mexico and their extraordinary history, Editorial Panorama, Mexico
• Tenorio-Trillo, Mauricio (1996) Mexico at the World’s Fairs: Crafting a Modern Nation, University of California Press
• Walsh, Jane Maclaren and Topping, Brett (2019) The Man Who Invented Aztec Crystal Skulls: The Adventures Of Eugène Boban, Berghahn Books

Pic 18: Boban’s collection of Mexican antiquities, at his shop in Paris
Pic 18: Boban’s collection of Mexican antiquities, at his shop in Paris (Click on image to enlarge)

2) ONLINE ARTICLES/SOURCES
• Barra de Abogados de Quintana Roo: https://www.barradeabogados.org/nosotros/
• Brinton, Daniel G. ‘The Boturini-Aubin-Goupil Collection of Mexicana’, Science, Vol. 21, No. 527 (Mar. 10, 1893), pp. 127-128, accessed from jstor – https://www.jstor.org/stable/1766897?origin=ads&seq=2#metadata_info_tab_contents
• Callejo TV, 27 Sept 2016 ‘Tonalamatl’ news video https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=93&v=ygvth0xfqos&feature=emb_logo
• Cienciaparatodos.org - ‘El mexicano que sustrajo y recuperó el códice “Tonalámatl Aubin” en París’ Sep 20, 2019 https://cienciaparatodos.org/el-mexicano-que-sustrajo-y-recupero-el-codice-tonalamatl-aubin-en-paris/
• Jacquot, Olivier, Amoxcalli Joseph-Marius-Alexis Aubin (1802-1891) PUBLIÉ 11/03/2018 https://amoxcalli.hypotheses.org/2468
• López Portillo, Guillermo Códices mayas (Parte 1), Fuente: Noticieros Televisa | 2012-12-20 http://noticierostelevisa.esmas.com/especiales/539746/codices-mayas-parte-1/
• Manzanos, Rosario, Proceso ‘La polémica García Cantú-Del Paso sobre el códice Tonamátl-Aubin’ 25 April 2013 –https://www.proceso.com.mx/340164/la-polemica-garcia-cantu-del-paso-sobre-el-codice-tonamatl-aubin
• Nicholson, Henry B. ‘The native tradition pictorials in the Aubin-Goupil collection of Mesoamerican ethnohistorical documents in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France : major reproductions and studies’ J ournal de la société des américanistes Année 1998 84-2 pp. 35-50 – https://www.persee.fr/doc/jsa_0037-9174_1998_num_84_2_1715
• Riding, Alan ‘A Stolen Relic is a Problem for Mexicans’ NY Times August 29th 1982
• Rojas, Ana Gabriela ‘Cuál es el significado del códice Tonalámatl de Aubin, el documento prehispánico que fue robado a Francia para ser devuelto a México’ Corresponsal de BBC News Mundo en México 7 enero 2020 https://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias-51003254
• Woodward, Hayley B. ‘Compressing History: Excavating Meaning from the Codex Xolotl fragments’ Seminar, Tulane Uni, 18 Dec 2017 http://stonecenter.tulane.edu/uploads/Woodward%2C_Hayley_RobertsonPrize_Huck-1527019255.pdf
• Yates, Donna ‘Trafficking culture: researching the global traffic in looted cultural objects’. Aubin Tonalamatl 11 August 2012 https://traffickingculture.org/encyclopedia/case-studies/aubin-tonalamatl/

Pic 19: Plan of the main exhibition areas, Exposition Universelle, Paris, 1889
Pic 19: Plan of the main exhibition areas, Exposition Universelle, Paris, 1889 (Click on image to enlarge)

Picture sources:-
1) PART 1
• Main: image downloaded from the Bibliothèque Nationale de France website https://gallica.bnf.fr
• Pix 1 & 9: images downloaded from the INAH 75th anniversary exhibition website https://codices.inah.gob.mx/pc/index.php
• Pic 2: photo courtesy of and thanks to Dr. Baltazar Brito, INAH
• Pic 3: image from Wikipedia (Lorenzo Boturini Benaduci)
• Pic 4: image downloaded from http://revistapolitica.com.mx/notas-del-dia/lorenzo-boturini-y-la-virgen-de-guadalupe/
• Pic 5: image from Granger Academic Educational Picture Archive
• Pic 6: image downloaded from https://www.todoababor.es/historia/servicio-disciplina-y-policia-a-bordo/
• Pix 7 & 10: images scanned from the Centre de Documentation ‘André Thévet’, Paris, 1933 facsimile edition of Idea de una Nueva Historia General...’ by Boturini
• Pic 8: Image downloaded from https://www.gob.mx/agn/es/articulos/agnmex-225-anos-de-ser-la-memoria-de-mexico
• Pic 11: photo downloaded from https://turismotlaxcala.com/english/que-hacer/tlaxcala/tlaxcala_capital.htm
• Pic 12: image downloaded from https://www.dreamstime.com/rosary-background-books-bird-s-feather-old-boards-image130804067
• Pic 13: (L) photo by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore; (R) image downloaded from http://www.elem.mx/autor/datos/121829
• Pic 14: image from Wikimedia Commons (Templo y exconvento de San Francisco (Ciudad de México))
• Pic 15: photo from online auction site
• Pic 16: photo by WikiRigaou, from Wikipedia (Joseph Aubin)
• Pic 17: image downloaded from the Bibliothèque Nationale de France website https://gallica.bnf.fr
• Pic 18: image downloaded from http://data.sedema.cdmx.gob.mx/museodehistorianatural/index.php/quienes-somos/mas-sobre-el-museo-de-historia-natural/mas-sobre-el-museo-de-historia-natural-y-cultura-ambiental-publico
• Pic 19: photo from Wikipedia (Museo Nacional de las Culturas)
• Pic 20: image downloaded from https://publicdomainreview.org/essay/brief-encounters-with-jean-frederic-maximilien-de-waldeck

2) PART 2
• Main: image downloaded from https://dl.wdl.org/15283/service/15283.pdf
• Pic 1: image courtesy of the Guildhall Library, Corporation of London
• Pic 2: image downloaded from https://www.gob.mx/agn/es/articulos/agnmex-225-anos-de-ser-la-memoria-de-mexico
• Pic 3: image scanned from ‘Tira de la Peregrinación (Códice Boturini)’, Arqueología Mexicana, Special Edition no. 26 (Dec. 2007); image from the collection of the Biblioteca Nacional de Antropología e Historia
• Pic 4: image scanned from our copy of Campbell’s Complete Guide and Descriptive Book of Mexico by Reau Campbell, Mexico City, 1899, original source not given
• Pic 5: image courtesy of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University
• Pic 6: image scanned from Rickards, Constantine George (1910) The Ruins of Mexico, vol. 1, H.E. Shrimpton, London
• Pic 7: photo (public domain) downloaded from https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/199408
• Pix 8 & 9: images from the Bibliothèque Nationale de France website https://gallica.bnf.fr
• Pic 10: images downloaded from http://thepirateslair.com/2-157-wood-dome.html; courtesy of and thanks to Mike ‘The Pirate’
• Pic 11: photo by, courtesy of and thanks to Jerome Offner; image © 2017 Jerome A. Offner. Courtesy Bibliothèque Nationale de France
• Pic 12: original image downloaded from https://codices.inah.gob.mx/pc/index.php and adapted by Mexicolore
• Pic 13: photo from Wikipedia (Eugène Boban)
• Pic 14: photo downloaded from https://www.politika.io/fr/notice/patrimonialiser-deviance’; image courtesy of and thanks to the Curator, Museo di Antropologia criminale “Cesare Lombroso”, Università di Torino
• Pic 15: image downloaded from https://books.openedition.org/pur/140563
• Pic 16: image downloaded from http://www.scielo.org.mx/pdf/sh/v13n25/v13n25a4.pdf
• Pic 17: original image scanned from La Pintura Mural de la Revolución Mexicana, introduction by Carlos Pellicer, Fondo Editorial de la Plástica Mexicana, Mexico DF, 1975, p. 17, and adapted by Mexicolore
• Pix 18 & 20: photos courtesy of Hispanic Society of America, New York
• Pic 19: image downloaded from the Bibliothèque Nationale de France website https://gallica.bnf.fr

3) PART 3
• Main: screen shot image taken from INAH Youtube video El Tonalámatl de Aubin - Presentación editorial
• Pic 1: both images public domain
• Pix 2, 3 & 19: images public domain
• Pic 4: images downloaded from online auction sites
• Pic 5: (L) image downloaded from online auction site; (R) image downloaded from https://dl.wdl.org/15283/service/15283.pdf
• Pic 6: image courtesy of Hispanic Society of America, New York.
• Pic 7: screen shot image taken from video on http://www.callejotv.com/reportaje-60-segundos/en-1982-jose-luis-castaneda-sustrae-el-codice-de-biblioteca-de-francia/
• Pic 8: photo downloaded from https://www.bnf.fr/en/richelieu-library-manuscripts-reading-room; image by, courtesy of and thanks to Emmanuel Nguyen Ngoc
• Pic 9: images downloaded from online auction sites
• Pic 10: image downloaded from https://www.sortiraparis.com/arts-culture/walks/articles/173901-the-bibliotheque-richelieu-bnf-historical-cradle/lang/en
• Pic 11: image downloaded from https://slideplayer.com/slide/13740208/
• Pic12: image from the Bibliothèque Nationale de France website https://gallica.bnf.fr
• Pic 13: photo courtesy of Baltazar Brito, INAH
• Pic 14: image public domain
• Pic 15: screen shot image taken from INAH Youtube video El Tonalámatl de Aubin - Presentación editorial
• Pix 17 & 18: images courtesy of Hispanic Society of America, New York.

This article was uploaded to the Mexicolore website on Sep 28th 2020

Website of the Mexican Repository of Digital Cultural Heritage, responsible for creating the facsimile edition of the Tonalamatl in Mexico
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