17) Perspective

In this digital collection of Aztec hieroglyphs we are tracking the use of varying perspectives. One can ask to see some of these in the Advanced Search dropdown list for shapes (for want of a better category). Perhaps at some point we will add a dropdown list for the various perspectives we are discovering. Incidentally, we have only just begun to track elevation, so the results for that type of search will not be very satisfying at this point.

Very common are profile views, particularly when showing people and often with animals. Sometimes a human body will be facing the viewer, but the head or even just the face will be in profile. When human body parts are shown, such as the legs or arms, they also tend to be in profile. Noses [yaca(tl)] are usually in profile. One will find a jaw bone in profile and skulls in profile, too.

Some body parts can be either in profile or frontal. So far, we have identified only one face glyph presented in a frontal view. Teeth [tlan(tli)] are most often in frontal view, but when presented with both upper and lower sets, they tend to be in profile.

The cave [ozto(tl)], which appears in the Codex Mendoza as the open-mouthed head of an earth monster, can be found in profile or with a frontal perspective.

Buildings and houses [cal(li), and other terms] are also being tracked when shown in a side versus a frontal view. The profile view is most common, but when a building has a specific function, the building will often face the viewer, and the artist has added details that clarify that function. Examples include the building with many wooden beams [huapal(li)] in the glyph for Huapalcalco and the building where salt was being made, in the glyph for Iztacalco.

Bird's eye views are also found to some extent, especially with land and things on the ground. Types of agricultural parcels, such as tlalli, milli, and chinamitl have this bird's eye view, as do types of land, such as ixtlahuatl. These pieces of land are typically long strips, sometimes segmented, and typically textured (as though seeded?). One will also find a bird's eye view of a an earthen mound (tlalehualli) and a body of water (e.g. the amanalli), Other views of demarcated spaces on the earth include market places [tianquiz(tli)] and ball courts [tlach(tli)]

Very rare, apparently, is the perspective that has the viewer looking at the underside of something. We have one example identified so far. This is the turtle [ayo(tl)]. Yet, even though the underside of the body is shown facing the viewer, the head is in profile, facing to the viewer's right.

A cross-section, combined with an elevation is often found in the representation of a canal or waterway [apan(tli.)]. Some apantli are difficult to distinguish from a simple water [a(tl)] glyph. But many show a trapezoidal shape with a framework on the bottom and sides, typically colored red and yellow or just one of these colors.

What is the point of tracing these perspectives? The hope is that art historians will be able to identify and track pre-contact perspectives and how they evolved over time with the influence of European perspectives. The former could be a help, too, in identifying newly identified glyphs whose reading is unclear. The clarification of evolving patterns may aid in the dating of glyphs and the manuscripts in which they appear.