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Elizabeth A.Sackler Center for Feminist Art

Maria Bartola

Flourished circa 1520s, Mexico City

María Bartola was an Aztec princess who wrote an account of the Spanish invasion of the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlán (now Mexico City). We know of her work from the Mexican historian Fernando de Alva Ixtllixochitl (1578?–1650), who based his chronicle of the conquest on now-lost indigenous sources. María, so-christened by the conquistadors (her Aztec name has not come down to us), lived through the terrible events that culminated in the destruction of the Aztec empire. Her uncle, Moctezuma II (ruled 1502–20), died during the seige of Tenochtitlán. Her father, Cuitláhuac, succeeded Moctezuma and routed the conquistadors, but his reign was brief: he died of smallpox within four months. Her brother, Cuauhtémoc, the last Aztec emperor (ruled 1520–22), took power just as Hernán Cortés was marching on the capital. He put up a brave resistance but the city was decimated and few Indians survived; Cuauhtémoc was captured by Cortés and hanged. María Bartola’s eyewitness account of the final seige of Tenochtitlán, told from an Aztec perspective, was reputedly burned by the Spanish.