The Storied Codex Trujillo, a Rare Masterpiece Showing Life Under Colonialism, Returns to Peru Following Outcry

The Spanish government has refused to let the volume be sold outright.

A watercolor from the Codex Trujillo, or Codex Martinez Compañon. Courtesy of Alcalá Subastas.
A watercolor from the Codex Trujillo, or Codex Martinez Compañon. Courtesy of Alcalá Subastas.

A fierce battle between Peru and Spain over the rights to own 136 watercolors from a colonial manuscript known as the Codex Trujillo, or Codex Martinez Compañon, has been resolved.

The Spanish Ministry of Culture had declared that the work is an important piece of Spanish heritage, preventing its export to Peru following its sale at auction to the Museo de Arte de Lima (MALI). The move provoked an uproar in the Latin American museum world. Now, as a solution, Spain will loan the work to Peru indefinitely without giving up ownership, reports Perú 21.

A watercolor from the Codex Trujillo, or Codex Martinez Compañon. Courtesy of Alcalá Subastas.

A watercolor from the Codex Trujillo, or Codex Martinez Compañon. Courtesy of Alcalá Subastas.

The 18th-century manuscript (ca. 1782–1785) was created by Baltasar Jaime Martínez Compañón, the bishop of Trujillo Peru, to serve as a record of life in his dioceses. It was illustrated by anonymous artists, and contains 1,411 watercolors depicting the plants and animals of the region, as well as Indian life, clothing, and customs.

According to the Spanish publication El Telégrafo, the Spanish Ministry of Education, Culture, and Sports had designated the document as not exportable on May 26, based on Spain’s Patrimony Act of 1985. Foreign buyers therefore had 16 days advance warning of the potential difficulty in purchasing the Codex, plus a warning at the auction itself.

The selection of images from the historic document was auctioned off on June 5 at Madrid auction house Alcalá Subastas, selling for a total of €45,000 ($50,000). The Peruvian museum’s was the only bid—but the Spanish government intervened, exercising its right of purchase following the sale, much to the disappointment of MALI.

The Spanish Ministry argued that the Codex serves as important record of 18th century scientific work done in America at the behest of the Spanish crown. Peru contended that the watercolors are also an important part of its own national heritage. Nine volumes of the Codex are already held by the Royal Library of Madrid.

“Due to the very nature of the colonial situation, there is a whole chapter of Latin American history that is not represented in local collections,” MALI director Natalia Majluf had argued, speaking to BBC World. “That is why it has been so hard to see Spain withhold this volume.”

A watercolor from the Codex Trujillo, or Codex Martinez Compañon. Courtesy of Alcalá Subastas.

A watercolor from the Codex Trujillo, or Codex Martinez Compañon. Courtesy of Alcalá Subastas.

Close to 70 Latin American museum professionals spoke out in Peru’s favor, signing a letter calling for Spain to review its export policy in this case, according to El País

MALI had suffered a similar disappointment in the 2015 sale of a 1795 painting of the Virgin of Monte Farelo, which ultimately went to Spain’s Museo de América. This time, however, an arrangement was reached that satisfied both countries.

See more watercolors from the Codex below.

A watercolor from the Codex Trujillo, or Codex Martinez Compañon. Courtesy of Alcalá Subastas.

A watercolor from the Codex Trujillo, or Codex Martinez Compañon. Courtesy of Alcalá Subastas.

A watercolor from the Codex Trujillo, or Codex Martinez Compañon. Courtesy of Alcalá Subastas.

A watercolor from the Codex Trujillo, or Codex Martinez Compañon. Courtesy of Alcalá Subastas.

A watercolor from the Codex Trujillo, or Codex Martinez Compañon. Courtesy of Alcalá Subastas.

A watercolor from the Codex Trujillo, or Codex Martinez Compañon. Courtesy of Alcalá Subastas.

A watercolor from the Codex Trujillo, or Codex Martinez Compañon. Courtesy of Alcalá Subastas.

A watercolor from the Codex Trujillo, or Codex Martinez Compañon. Courtesy of Alcalá Subastas.

A watercolor from the Codex Trujillo, or Codex Martinez Compañon. Courtesy of Alcalá Subastas.

A watercolor from the Codex Trujillo, or Codex Martinez Compañon. Courtesy of Alcalá Subastas.

A watercolor from the Codex Trujillo, or Codex Martinez Compañon. Courtesy of Alcalá Subastas.

A watercolor from the Codex Trujillo, or Codex Martinez Compañon. Courtesy of Alcalá Subastas.


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