Codex Cospi

Codex Cospi – Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) – Cod. 4093 – Biblioteca Universitaria di Bologna (Bologna, Italy)

Mexico β€” 15th – beginning of 16th century

Mysterious festivals and ancient rituals adopted into the new faith: a pre-Columbian calendar as beautiful as the elaborate ceramics of the Mixtecs and a rare glimpse into the Christianization of Old Mexico

  1. Pre-Columbian tabular calendars connected by a series of pictures and detailed descriptions of rituals

  2. Dates for the rituals are no longer selected according to the old calendar but Christian holy days instead

  3. Artistic echoes from the ceramics of the Nochistlan in the Mixteca Alta, but also the Cholula Tlaxcala

Codex Cospi

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  1. Description
  2. Detail Picture
  3. Single Page
  4. Facsimile Editions (1)
Codex Cospi

20 is the highest number that man can still count with the help of his body – namely when he uses all his fingers and toes to count. Therefore, the Aztec calendar "Tonalamatl" is based on the number 20 and thus comes to a ritual year of 260 days. Rituals such as the sacrifice of humans with their hearts torn out and that of dogs can be seen in the illustrations of the Codex Cospi. It is often concerned with mantic rituals intended to provide a glimpse into the uncertain future. This is a strange world, but one that can arouse the curiosity of the viewer when he or she browses through the colorful pictures full of symbolism. Stylistically, the illustrations are reminiscent of the elaborate ceramics of the Cholula Tlaxcala and the Nochistlan in the Mixtecan Alta. Together with the Codex Borgia, the Codex Cospi belongs to the Borgia Group of documents from ancient Mexico.

Codex Cospi

The Codex Cospi is a brilliantly illuminated manuscript and belongs to one of the five so-called Codex-Borgia-Group. The manuscript is well preserved, painted on rawhide, and protected by two covers from the 17th century, which probably replaced previous wood covers. The artistic style of the Codex Cospi bears relation not only to the painted ceramics of the Nochistlan in the Mixtecan Alta, but also to the style of the Cholula Tlaxcala. The evaluation of style is challenged by an archaeological problem which through excavations to date has been only partially solved.
The front section of the Codex Cospi consists of three parts in which calendar arrangements in tabular form are connected by sequences of pictures. The original empty pages of the back section were at a later date inscribed by hand. Such rituals have been preserved to the present through different acculturative aspects. The selection of days for the rituals is no longer made according to the old calendar but rather according to the different Christian holy days.

Place in the Borgia Group

Although the exact origins of the Codex Cospi are difficult to determine, it is believed to have originated in the Puebla-Tlaxcala region like the rest of the manuscripts of the Borgia Group. It is most similar to the Codex Borgia itself, particularly with regard to the opening sequences and the depiction of a god with two knives for a head. The contents are religious and divinatory in nature with depictions of deities and priests dressed like them while presenting offerings at temple ceremonies. These rituals, intended for gaining good luck and protection, are often depicted with counted bundles in front of the deities. The miniatures have a comic book-like quality and reflect the political situation of Tlaxcallan, which was completely circled by the Aztec Empire but had been deliberately left independent by the Aztecs as a symbol of their magnanimity.


Alternative Titles
Codex Bologna
Size / Format
40 pages / 17.80 Γ— 17.85 cm
15th – beginning of 16th century
20 leaves painted on both sides, 24 full-page miniatures total
Previous Owners
Pope Clement VII (1478–1534)
Count Valerio Zani
Marchese Ferdinando Cospi (1606–86)
Cospi Museum
Istituto delle Scienze

Available facsimile editions:
Codex Cospi – Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) – Cod. 4093 – Biblioteca Universitaria di Bologna (Bologna, Italy)
Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) – Graz, 1968
Detail Picture

Codex Cospi


The "dart throwing" deity representing the morning star of Venus is Tlāhuizcalpantecuhtli, a principal member of the Aztec pantheon of gods, one of the thirteen Lords of the Day, and one of the four gods who keep the sky up and is associated with the cardinal direction East. He is believed to cause harm to people by shooting darts and his victims vary according to the Aztec calendar. Tlāhuizcalpantecuhtli is even supposed to cause drought by shooting the rain.

Codex Cospi – Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) – Cod. 4093 – Biblioteca Universitaria di Bologna (Bologna, Italy)
Single Page

Codex Cospi

Tōnatiuh and Itztlacoliuhqui

With his bow-shaped face paint, Tonatiuh holds an incense spoon in one hand from which fragrant smoke, denoted by jewels, rises; in the other hand he holds an incense bag. A flowering tree towers over the temple and a vessel with flowers is in front of it. In its blue interior, a beautiful bird sings a song of gems and flowers.

Itztlacoliuhqui, a form of Tezcatlipoca with its face painting but without the torn foot, is presented as a moon god. Standing on a field of sharp stones, he holds an incense spoon smoking with a burnt offering in one hand and stabs his ear with a bone dagger in the other. In the green interior of the thatched-roof temple, an owl ominously cries "stone and wood" with a noctilucent cloud while a fire vessel burns in front of it.

Codex Cospi – Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) – Cod. 4093 – Biblioteca Universitaria di Bologna (Bologna, Italy)
Facsimile Editions

#1 Codex Cospi

Publisher: Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) – Graz, 1968
Binding: Leporello folding. Facsimile and commentary come in a half leather case.
Commentary: 1 volume (32 pages) by Karl Anton Nowotny
Language: German
1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size) Reproduction of the entire original document as detailed as possible (scope, format, colors). The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding.
Facsimile Copy Available!
Price Category: €€
(1,000€ - 3,000€)
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