Lorenzo Boturini Benaduci, a nobleman born in the Duchy of Milan in 1698 (and thus a Spanish subject), spent seven years in New Spain during 1736–1743, building a formidable and still unparalleled collection of indigenous Mexican manuscripts and pictorial codices. But Boturini had failed to secure authorization for his activities: his “museum” was confiscated and later dispersed, and he was detained and then deported to Spain. There he wrote from memory his Historia and Catalogo, an inventory of the sources he had amassed, publishing them in a composite volume in Madrid in 1746.

Boturini affirmed that his tripartite model for the history of the Indies—a divine age of the gods, a heroic age, and a third, human age of historic time—was inspired by the Roman historian of thought and belief, Marcus Terentius Varro (67), although Augustinian and Thomist triads of divine,...

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