Codex Mendoza

Codex Mendoza

Mexico City (Mexico) — ca. 1541

Codex Mendoza

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

This Aztec manuscript, known as the Codex Mendoza, is a history of the Aztecs’ rulers, their conquests, and the tributes paid to them as well as containing precious descriptions of daily life in pre-conquest Aztec society. It was created ca. 1541 and is named after the man who commissioned it: Don Antonio de Mendoza, the viceroy of New Spain and a leading patron of native artists. The Spanish crown wanted a report on the political and tributary system of the Aztecs and Mendoza, mindful of the artifacts and traditions that were destroyed in the conquest, assembled a team of indigenous artists to work under the supervision of Spanish priests. They wrote the document with traditional Aztec pictograms in the Nahuatl language with a translation and commentary in Spanish. It was created using Spanish paper and the manuscript was bound in the style of a European book. The Codex Mendoza is a precious source on the art, history, government, and culture of the Aztec people.

Codex Mendoza

Unlike most of the Pre-Columbian manuscripts that have survived to the present, which primarily contain religious and ceremonial information, the Codex Mendoza is a splendid source of information on both the Aztec elites as well as describing everyday life in the Aztec Empire. The manuscript is named after Don Antonio de Mendoza (1495–1552), the first Viceroy of New Spain, third Viceroy of Peru, and a leading patron of native artists. Mendoza was acutely aware of how much of the indigenous culture had been destroyed in the wake of the conquistadors and this manuscript from ca. 1541 represents an attempt to preserve as much of this culture as possible before it was extinguished forever.

The Work of Native Artists and Spanish Priests

Mendoza assembled native artists and scribes into a workshop at the Franciscan college in Tlatelolco after the King called for a record of the Aztec political and tributary system. This team worked under the supervision of Spanish priests and wrote the document in the Nahuatl language with a translation into Spanish. It is adorned by Aztec pictograms and was created using Spanish paper and unlike many other Aztec works, which take the form of folding books, it was bound in the manner of a European book. The work thus represents a combination of Indigenous Mexican artistry and European bookbinding.

Governance of the Aztec Empire

Like the Spanish, the Aztecs were conquerors who subjugated their neighbors and extracted tributes from them to support their empire. The text is divided into three sections: Section I is concerned with the history of the Aztec people from 1325, when Tenochtitlan was founded, to 1521, when it fell to Spanish invaders; Section II lists the various conquered towns and the tributes they paid, and is probably a copy of the Matrícula de Tributos, but contains information of five provinces that are missing from it; Section III addresses and illustrates the daily life of the Aztecs. All 71 pages are illustrated in the Aztec style and provided with translations for the convenience of the Codex Mendoza’s intended audience in Spain.

Dating the Manuscript

A reference to Hernán Cortés (1485–1547) as “marques del Valle” means that the Codex Mendoza had to be made after July 6th, 1529 but before 1553, when it came into the possession of André Thevet (1516–1590), a French cosmographer who travelled in the New World. Further evidence come from the testimony of the conquistador Jerónimo López, probably dating from 1547, that states the book had been made about 6 years previously, thus the date of 1541. Writing in 1625, then-owner of the manuscript Samuel Purchas (ca. 1577–1626) claimed that the book had been looted from a Spanish fleet by French privateers and brought to France, where it was acquired by Thévet. English writer Richard Hakluyt (1553–1616) acquired the Codex for 20 French francs. After passing through Purchas’ hands and those of his son, it was acquired by the famous polymath and bibliophile John Seldon (1584–1654) who bequeathed it to the Bodleian Library. However, the manuscript lay in obscurity until it was rediscovered in 1831 by the Irish antiquarian Edward King, Viscount Kingsborough (1795–1837).

Codicology

Alternative Titles
Codex Mendocino
La colección Mendoza
Origin
Mexico
Date
ca. 1541
Epochs
Artist / School
Previous Owners
André Thévet
Richard Hakluyt
Samuel Purchase and son
John Selden

Available facsimile editions:
Facsimile Editions

#1 Códice Mendocino

Commentary: 1 volume
Language: Spanish
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.

#2 The Codex Mendoza

Commentary: 1 volume by Frances Berdan and Patricia Anawalt Rieff
Languages: English, Spanish
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.
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