‘The Astounding Life’ one of Mexico’s first novels containing some of the earliest images of the Day of the Dead recently went up for auction in New York City at the Swann Auction House.
The 1792 book was written by Joaquin Bolaños, a Franciscan priest from Zacatecas and illustrated by Francisco Agüera Bustamante. This book is important in Mexico’s cultural history since it contains some of the earliest iconography of a celebration created by the Aztecs some 3,000 years ago. The book is an allegory exploring the meaning of death as it was perceived during the 1700s.
The book contains a total of 18 illustrations of skeletons in array of portrayals, everything from babies to brides. The book and its illustrations were considered such an insult to Spanish Catholicism that it was burned by the Spanish Inquisition. Mexico was under Spanish rule when the book was published and the Day of the Dead images were considered a mockery of death. Therefore, the fact that one of the original copies of the book is available for sale is rare news.
When the Spanish conquered Mexico, the Day of the Dead celebrations were already hundreds of years old. The Aztec Festival of the Dead, as it was known in ancient times, was a two month celebration honoring those that died and was presided over by the gods and the Underworld – the Spanish quickly eliminated any ties to ancient gods and connected the festival to the Catholic celebration of All Saints Day and All Souls Day from November 1-2.
According to the auction house this rare and critical glimpse into Mexican culture sold for $3,000 to an undisclosed buyer.
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