Codex Laud

Codex Laud – Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) – Ms. Laud Misc. 678 – Bodleian Library (Oxford, United Kingdom)

Mexico — 16th century

Of priceless historical value for understanding an advanced civilization that seems strange to us: detailed depictions of the mystical gods of the legendary Aztec empire

  1. This Pre-Columbian manuscript is priceless due to its cultural-historical and anthropological value

  2. The manuscript is named after a previous owner, the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud (d. 1645)

  3. All the most important gods of the Aztec-Toltec pantheon are depicted in detail

Codex Laud

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  1. Description
  2. Facsimile Editions (1)
Codex Laud

Death, as the Aztecs imagined it before the Spanish conquest of Mexico, is a central theme in the Codex Laud, which was named after its last owner, the Archbishop of Canterbury William Laud (d. 1645). Accordingly, other titles for this impressive manuscript include Libro de la muerte or "Book of Death" and the Codex Mictlan, after the ruler of the underworld. In addition to death-themed pictographs, the book contains other religious instructions such as those for ordination to the priesthood. While it can be dated to the period between the 13th and 15th centuries, its geographical location is still difficult to determine. It is quite conceivable that the masters of Aztec book illumination traveled from place to place and that the books were also shipped around the empire. In any case, this has not harmed the quality of the pictures – they continue to captivate with their orderly and simultaneously lively coloring.

Codex Laud

Dating from shortly before the arrival of the Spanish in Mexico, the Codex Laud is a Mesoamerican religious almanac noteworthy for its artistic quality. The manuscript is divided into eleven sections and consists of 46 full-page pictographic miniatures depicting various deities of the Aztec-Toltec pantheon, the 260-day calendarial cycle known as the tonalpohualli with symbols for the days of the month, and rituals including the initiation of priests and the passage into the afterlife. It is remarkable for being preserved in virtually flawless condition and is undamaged by water, fire, or zealous Catholic censors.
Today, the best-preserved pre-Columbian manuscript in the world is stored alongside four other Mesoamerican codices in Oxford’s famous Bodleian Library. In terms of format, page number, coloring, and style, it is similar to two other illuminated Mesoamerican manuscripts: the Codex Fejervary-Mayer and the Codex Cospi. The Codex Laud is named after its last owner William Laud, the Archbishop of Canterbury and Chancellor of the University of Oxford, who acquired the manuscript in 1636 and donated it to the university soon thereafter.

An Exemplary Specimen of Mesoamerican Book Art

Although it is unclear precisely where it was made and by whom, the Codex Laud appears to have been painted in two stages and exhibits influences from the Cuicatec, Mazatec, Nahua, and Mixtec traditions. The wooden covers were added at a later date. Numerous depictions of mercantile activities indicate that the manuscript originated from an important market town. It consists of 24 leaves made from deer hide although it appears to be incomplete, and it is not known how large the manuscript originally was. Like most pre-Columbian manuscripts, it has a leporello screenfold binding with the leaves attached end to end so that it measures four meters in length when unfolded.
What truly distinguishes the work, aside from its immaculate state of preservation, is its well-designed and executed artistic program. Neatly drawn black outlines are filled in with blue, red, and yellow paints and the pages are neatly divided by think red lines that appear to have been drawn using drafting tools like a T-square. Various geometric patterns have been drawn with the same degree of precision and the overall execution of the miniatures, some of which are brilliant full-page depictions of the gods, point to an artist with formal training.


Size / Format
48 pages / 16.5 × 15.5 cm
16th century
46 full-page pictographic miniatures
Sacred Aztec calendar
Previous Owners
Willian Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury (1573–1645)

Available facsimile editions:
Codex Laud – Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) – Ms. Laud Misc. 678 – Bodleian Library (Oxford, United Kingdom)
Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) – Graz, 1966
Facsimile Editions

#1 Codex Laud

Binding: Folding book in half leather case with commentary
Commentary: 1 volume (42 pages) by Cottie A. Burland
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.
Price Category: € (under 1,000€)
Edition available
Price: Log in here!
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