Their flickering creations
Among the Nahua people of Late Postclassic central Mexico, specialists who worked with precious stones, feathers, and metals represented a highly prominent class of artists who were at the center of Nahua theories of artistic practice. The highly valuable materials that they worked were referred to collectively as tlazohtli, or precious things, and embodied immense economic, aesthetic, efficacious, and ideological value. Ownership of these materials was closely regulated, and works in these media played a principal role in communicating and at times constructing the identities of the nobles, rulers, and gods (teteoh) who wore them. Artists of this class further employed widely varied forms of knowledge—ranging from the technical to the philosophical—, all of which informed their modes of judging, structuring, and transforming precious materials. By analyzing Nahuatl-language texts in the original, pictorial representations, and surviving artworks in these media, this dissertation reconstructs a set of key issues for artistic work with precious materials as understood by Nahua people: value (tlazohtiliztli), appearance (ixnexcayotl), animacy (tonalli), and surface (ixtli). Employing interdisciplinary methodologies drawn from linguistics, literary studies, anthropology, and art history, this study reconstructs how Nahua people of the Late Postclassic conceptually framed these issues and how artists employed them as visual strategies in the creation of elaborate extant works in turquoise, feather mosaic, and cast gold. Engaging with Nahua thought on these issues brings to light local constructions of major visual and artistic concepts, including color, surface, and representation, that together constitute a Nahua theory of art.