Francisco Toledo and Popol Vuh

Mary-Anne Martin Fine Art presents a never-before-exhibited sketchbook from 1982 consisting of more than fifty drawings in pen and ink, representing Toledo’s version of the Mayan codex, Popol Vuh.

Popol Vuh is the book of the Quiché Mayan creation story, weaving together cultural and spiritual history to narrate how the Mayan gods formed the world. It features the stories of the Hero Twins, Hunahpú and Ixbalanqué, who vanquished the gods of the underworld, and finishes with an account of the Quiché Mayan dynasties. This story was oral tradition for the Maya, and survives in written record from a transcription made by the Dominican priest Francisco Ximénez between 1700 – 1715 in Chichicastenango, Guatemala. Ximénez’s transcription, written in Quiché along with a Spanish translation, is thought to be based on an earlier written account from the 16th century, possibly by a Mayan scribe, although this version has been lost.

During their invasion of Latin America in the 16th century, Spanish colonizers sought to destroy much evidence of indigenous culture. Popol Vuh has become an especially important work of literature as it is one of the few surviving documents of this type from early Mayan history. It has now been translated into many different languages and widely published.

In this version used by Francisco Toledo, the story was published in Spanish along with drawings from Mayan codexes. Toledo was of Zapotec ancestry, and a fierce advocate for the preservation of indigenous Mexican culture and heritage. He dedicated a great deal of energy and resources to the historic preservation of Oaxaca, his hometown, and personally funded cultural institutions there including the Oaxaca Museum of Contemporary Arts and the Graphic Arts Institute of Oaxaca. While the Quiché Maya are located in what is now Guatemala and have a distinct culture and language, the Popol Vuh is a vital document of larger Mesoamerican history, a testament to the indigenous people and the empires that stretched across Central America and into what is now southern Mexico. Toledo was undoubtedly very familiar with this story, and the animals and motifs that appear in these sketches are repeated throughout his work.

This work by Toledo was shown for the first time in the gallery’s exhibition Francisco Toledo: In His Memorypart of Master Drawings New York 2020.

The following is a selection of pages from Francisco Toledo’s Popol Vuh