The Search for the Codex Cardona


The Search for the Codex Cardona:
On the Trail of a Sixteenth-century
Mexican Treasure

Arnold J. Bauer
2010, Duke University Press
181 pages

ARNOLD BAUER weaves an intriguing tale about his search for the truth about an obscure ‘painted book’ ostensibly originating in post-Conquest Aztec civilization that speaks tragic volumes about the international trade in rare manuscripts and their fleeting – and occasionally fraudulent – appearances in public. It was love at first sight for Bauer, professor emeritus of history at the University of California, Davis, after he was allowed to inspect the ancient document in 1985 as scholars tried to establish its authenticity. But then it disappeared from public view, until its last known appearance at Christie’s in New York in 1998. His search for the manuscript – and for the truth about it – took him across the Atlantic and back and provides rich material for a mystery that poses significant questions about cultural patrimony and how ephemeral can be a past that can go under the gavel with such ease. It also exposes the cynicism at the heart of the trade in rare books and how readily greed will prompt unscrupulous dealers to loot treasures of incalculable historical significance: by the end of the book, it seems clear that, authentic or otherwise, the codex was cannibalized and no longer exists. If ever there was a case for international law to order the compulsory purchase and retention of documentation that is potentially of such unique universal importance to global history, then this is it. – GO’T

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