From the first contacts between European conquerors and the peoples of the Americas, objects were exchanged and treasures pillaged, as if each side were seeking to appropriate tangible fragments of the "world" of the other. Soon, too, the collision between the arts of Renaissance Europe and pre-Hispanic America produced new objects and new images with the most diverse usages and forms. Scholars have used terms such as syncretism, fusion, juxtaposition, and hybridity in describing these new works of art, but none of them, asserts Alessandra Russo, adequately conveys the impact that the European artistic world had on the Mesoamerican artistic world, nor treats the ways in which pre-Hispanic traditions, expertise, and techniques—as well as the creation of post-Conquest images—transformed the course of Western art.
This innovative study focuses on three sets of paradigmatic images created in New Spain between the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries—feather mosaics, geographical maps, and graffiti—to propose that the singularity of these creations does not arise from a syncretic impulse, but rather from a complex process of "untranslatability." Foregrounding the distances and differences between incomparable theories and practices of images, Russo demonstrates how the constant effort to understand, translate, adapt, decode, transform, actualize, and condense Mesoamerican and European aesthetics, traditions, knowledge, techniques, and concepts constituted an exceptional engine of unprecedented visual and verbal creativity in the early modern transatlantic world.