Though it is mostly invisible to us, we need air.
(Please remember to breathe as you read this.)
Necessary to life, hard to grasp, air became a powerful metaphor and an actual source of power for life in the new world. Europeans used the wind to get to America, then worried that its air was bad for them (mal-aria). Hurricanes and other tempests of wind threatened lives and properties. Indian, European, and African peoples of the Americas played and sang musical airs, even operatic arias. Colonialists made money from tobacco smoke and from wind-powered sugar-mills. In America, squirrels flew and the Virgin (of Guadalupe) hovered in midair. Soaring eagles represented new American nations. And new world aerial phenomena shaped new conceptions of climate that continue to inform debates about life on Earth today.
The Tovar Codex, attributed to the 16th-century Mexican Jesuit Juan de Tovar, contains detailed information about the rites and ceremonies of the Aztecs (also known as Mexica). The codex is illustrated with 51 full-page paintings in watercolor. Strongly influenced by pre-contact pictographic manuscripts, the paintings are of exceptional artistic quality. The manuscript is divided into three sections. The first section is a history of the travels of the Aztecs prior to the arrival of the Spanish. The second section, an illustrated history of the Aztecs, forms the main body of the manuscript. The third section contains the Tovar calendar.
FIRST AZTEC KING
This exhibition, curated by Joyce Chaplin, showcases texts, maps, and illustrations from the library's collection that reveal the multiple and resonant meanings of air to the history of the Americas. This is the second of four special exhibitions on the classical four elements: earth, air, fire, and water.