Granziera, Patrizia. Jardines del México Antiguo. Illustrated by Axel Posos. Cuernavaca, Morelos: Fondo Editorial del Estado de Morelos, 2018. Pp. 85. ISBN: 978-607-9358-85-3.
In her book Jardines del México Antiguo, Mexico-based Italian art historian Patrizia Granziera outlines some of the key elements of the pre-Hispanic Mesoamerican worldview (cosmovisión) through a creative exploration of the design, structure, flora, and fauna of ancient Mexican gardens. Granziera utilizes her analysis of these architectural spaces as a tool to highlight significant aspects of the rituals, social structures, and philosophical principles of Mezoamerican peoples prior to the Spanish conquest. Therefore, Granziera’s exploration of gardens as artistic representations provides a glimpse into a number of the features of the life of pre-Hispanic communities, outlining aspects of their science, their political and social structures, and their understanding of the human condition.
Jardines del México Antiguo contains cross-disciplinary reflections product of a juxtaposition of artistic observations and anthropological hypotheses, examining significant aspects of the Aztec way of life and its implications for the communal and political spheres of pre-Hispanic Mesoamerican societies. To that effect, Granziera relies heavily on chronicles by early Spanish explorers such as Bernal Díaz del Castillo and Fray Bernardino de Sahagún, individuals who would have had first hand experience of Moctezuma II’s gardens and their use. These explorers’ observations, more sociological than artistic in nature, help to frame Granziera’s conclusions within a human context, setting the background needed to understand the art-history analysis of the ancient Mexican gardens ― as one amongst many other artistic expressions of the pre-Hispanic communities of the region.
Jardines del México Antiguo contains a number of illustrations by visual artist Axel Posos, which follow every page of text ― in addition to a collided glossary of Mexican flora found at the end of the script. These illustrations serve as illuminations of Granziera’s descriptions, constitute stand-alone expressions of Mesoamerican art, and provide links between known pre-Hispanic art and their ritualistic expressions. They constitute an important vehicle for Granziera’s assertions about Mexico’s pre-Hispanic life, particularly in regard to the key role that flora and fauna played in other aspects of pre-Hispanic living. As spaces for relaxation, enjoyment, and contemplation, pre-Hispanic gardens emphasize the connection between human communities and the world, at the same time that point to the human and natural connection with the divine. This point is made particularly clear through the selection of images that accompany each page.
Perhaps the most significant anthropological conclusion of Jardines del México Antiguo pertains to the complex relationship of pre-Hispanic Mesoamericans with their surrounding environment. In fact, through its exploration of the “drama” depicted in the gardens that were found at the homes of the pre-Hispanic Mexican elite, the book uncovers the ambiguity with which these communities approached their existence within the larger natural world. One of the most significant corollaries of Granziera’s observations is her suggestion that, at least for the Aztec communities, there was neither a desire for total domination over nature nor a complete surrendering to the environment. As represented in their gardens, a complex weave of desires for domination and harmony guided the thought and action of these communities. The often-romanticized notion of the pre-Hispanic person completely immersed in the natural environment is then balanced with the knowledge that pre-Hispanic gardens were tools to showcase a level of control over the natural, as well as scenarios to feature the Aztec knowledge and closeness with the surrounding world.
Perhaps a more important accomplishment of Granziera’s presentation is the way in which the portrayal of the gardens proves a highly diversified life in pre-Hispanic Mexico. According to her exploration, the gardens of ancient Mexico were structured according to a plethora of principles, ranging from medicine to aesthetics and politics. More importantly, they were built in order to convey those principles to the larger population, to visitors, and to the natural world at large; they served a political and diplomatic purpose. In this way, Granziera’s book does not only constitute the documentation of art history for those interested in ancient architecture, but a compilation of anthropological, sociological, and philosophical attitudes of Mesoamerican peoples as expressed in their gardens.
Héctor A. Acero Ferrer
Institute for Christian Studies, Toronto