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Colonial and Aztec Codex Facsimiles

Mendoza | Matrícula de Tributos | Borbonicus | Azcatitlan | Vaticanus A | Xicotepec

Aztec codices were less pictorially complex than Mixtec manuscripts, even though the Aztecs had learned bookmaking from the Mixtecs. No original Aztec manuscript has survived that does not show European influence. The Codex Borbonicus is thought to be the only one whose style matches the pre-Conquest Náhuatl style, nevertheless it is considered to be a colonial copy.

Aztec codices were burned by the Spaniards for their pagan religious content, and by Aztec kings in an effort to rewrite their history. The codices dealt with divination, ceremonies, the ritual calendar, and speculations about the gods and the universe. The sacred books were painted on deerskin or agave-fiber paper using a combination of pictography, ideograms, and phonetic symbols. Later colonial codices influenced by the Spanish depict chronicles of native Mexicans with Latin script either in Náhuatl or in Spanish.

Our collection of colonial Mexican facsimiles include codices such as the Mendoza, Matrícula de Tributos, Borbonicus, Azcatitlan, Vaticanus A, and Xicotepec codices. There more colonial codices in the "other codices" page, such as Florentinus, Sierra, Tlatelolco, Historia Tolteca-Chichimeca, Ixtlilxochitl, Techialoyan García Granados, Tlaxcala, Magliabechianus, Azoyú 1, Tudela, and Totomixtlahuaca.

Following is a brief representation of a number of Aztec and other colonial codex facsimiles at our collection with bibliographic descriptions.

Codex Mendoza, detail

Codex Mendoza

F. F. Berdan and P. R. Anawalt, The Codex Mendoza, 4 vols.
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992).
Note: Facsimile in vol. 3, translation in vol. 4. Issued in a case (30 x 38.5 cm).

F1219.56 C625 1992 Spec. Coll. Oversize

The first colonial manuscript painted according to a new style influenced by European art is the Codex Mendoza, named after Antonio Mendoza, Spanish viceroy in Mexico City. Mendoza commissioned the work around 1541, and intended to send it to the King of Spain, but pirates diverted its way to that of France instead. The codex finally ended up in the collection of Selden, and is now at the Bodleian Library at Oxford.

The codex was produced twenty years after the Conquest by native scribes under the supervision of missionary priests who added Spanish annotations.

Mendoza is truly a codex bound as a European book, as opposed to the traditional screenfold. It contains 71 leaves (32.7 x 22.9 cm), and can be divided into three parts. The first section (1-18r) starts from the pre-Conquest founding of Mexico City-Tenochtitlán (1324) to the Pacification of Mexico City (1522), a year after the death of its ruler, Montezuma. The second section (18v-55r) is similar to the Matrícula de Tributos, another summary of tributes to the Aztec capital. These first two parts reflect earlier pictorials from pre-Hispanic times. The third section (56v-71v) is about the everyday lives of native Mexicans, from birth to death. Robertson assumes that this section reflects the wishes of Mendoza to record the lives of the natives.

For a detailed description of the artistic features of Codex Mendoza, see Donald Robertson, Mexican Manuscript Painting of the Early Colonial Period: The Metropolitan Schools (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1994 [1959]), pp. 95-107.

Selections from Codex Mendoza

Click on the thumbnails to view the images and commentaries.

p. 2r.Mendoza, p. 2r. p. 20r.Mendoza, p. 20r.

p. 67r.Mendoza, p. 67r. p. 69r.Mendoza, p. 69r. p. 71r.Mendoza, p. 71r.

Matrícula de Tributos, detail

The Matrícula de Tributos or Códice de Moctezuma is a record of towns and tributes of the thirty-three provinces of the Aztec empire. It has not been established whether the manuscript in the early sixteenth century was produced before or after the Spanish Conquest. The pictorial content shows no European influence, the Spanish and Náhuatl annotations were added later. One reason for dating it as a colonial maunscript is that its format is not screenfold.

The codex is drawn on amatl paper, its dimensions are 29 x 42 cm.

Selection from the Matrícula de Tributos

Click on the thumbnail to view the image and commentary.

p. 3r.Matrícula de Tributos, p. 3r.

Codex Borbonicus, detail

The style of Codex Borbonicus, the most famous of all Aztec manuscripts, is pre-Conquest, nevertheless it is assumed that the surviving copy is from the early colonial period.

The manuscript contains the 260-day tonalpohualli with pages devoted to one thirteen-day week and showing the constellation of gods belonging to that particular period, furthermore, the 52 years connected with the tonalamatl, and popular celebrations. The manuscript is an enormous screenfold, with square pages measuring 38.5 cm.

Selections from Codex Borbonicus

Click on the thumbnails to view the images and commentaries.

p. 8.Borbonicus, p. 8. p. 16.Borbonicus, p. 16. p. 21.Borbonicus, p. 21. detail

p. 28.Borbonicus, p. 28. p. 30.Borbonicus, p. 30. p. 34.Borbonicus, p. 34.

Codex Vaticanus A: The Cholula Pyramid, p. 17.

Codex Vaticanus (Latinus) 3738 is also known as Vaticanus A or Codex Ríos. The codex was painted between 1566 and 1589 either in Mexico or in Italy. The religious section of the codex, the tonalamatl, was drawn by natives to European request. The codex contains Italian commentaries to the paintings, which describe ritual and divinatory practices as well as historical events. Unlike that of Borbonicus, the tonalamatl of Vaticanus A is not a screenfold but a book after European fashion.

The Italian text was written by the Dominican Pedro de los Ríos, hence one of the names of the manuscript. J. Eric S. Thompson has argued that the Codex Telleriano-Remensis is the Mexican, while the Vaticanus is the Italian copy of a now lost prototype called Codex Huitzilopochtli.

The original manuscript contains 101 folios of European paper, bound in a codex format. The original dimensions are ca. 46.5 x 29.5 cm, and the facsimile dimensions in this current edition are seven tenth of the original.

Selections from Codex Vaticanus A

Click on the thumbnails to view the images and commentaries.

p. 4v. Vaticanus A, p.4v. p. 54r. Vaticanus A, p. 54r p. 71v. Vaticanus A, p.71v.

Codex Azcatitlan

Codex Azcatitlan was printed on European paper at the end of the sixteenth century. Its format is not the traditional screenfold, rather the European book. The authors are anonymous and the codex is not dated.

The contents describe the history of the Mexica up to the European Conquest in three parts. The first part concerns their departure from Aztlan, the second is their story up to the Spanish invasion, and the third depicts the Conquest and the beginning of the colonial period under Cortés.

Selections from Codex Azcatitlan

Click on the thumbnails to view the images and commentaries.
Except for p. 44, each thumbnail represents two pages. Each pair of pages is one image.

pp. 2-3. Azcatitlan, pp. 2-3. pp. 26-27. Azcatitlan, pp. 26-27. pp. 34-35. Azcatitlan, pp. 24-35. p. 44. Azcatitlan, p. 44.

Codex Xicotepec

The colonial Xicotepec Codex was discovered in 1992. The manuscript is a pictorial history of the people of Texcoco and the central and southern valley of Mexico in colonial times.

This edition is the first time the Xicotepec codex is published in a facsimile format. Its dimensions are 25 x 19 cm.

Selections from Codex Xicotepec

Click on the thumbnails to view the images and commentaries.

p. 21.Xicotepec, p. 21. p. 24.Xicotepec, p. 24.

For bibliographic information on other colonial codices, see the page for other Mesoamerican codices.

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