On richly painted deer skin: a pre-Columbian masterpiece for priests and fortune tellers of ancient Mexico

Codex Vaticanus B (3773)

Mexico - Middle America

Codex Vaticanus B (3773)

Codex Vaticanus B (3773)

Mexico - Middle America

  1. The manuscript was originally intended as a reference book for priests or fortune-tellers in Old Mexico

  2. This Pre-Columbian manuscript was a reference for calculating the moon phases and festivals of the year

  3. Both sides of the deerskin parchment are painted and the outermost are glued to wooden boards

Codex Vaticanus B (3773)

Alternative Titles:
  • Codice Vaticano B
Codex Vaticanus B (3773) – Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (Vatican City, State of the Vatican City)
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  1. Short Description
  2. Codicology

Short Description

Codex 3773 of the Vatican Library in Rome, also known as Codex Vaticanus B, is a fascinating illuminated manuscript from Old Mexico. A seven-meter-long piece of parchment, folded up and written on both sides, features tabular images with the most diverse, brightly-colored miniatures. These provide information about the long-lost culture of the Aztecs in Mexico, their calendar, religion, medicine, and much more.

Codex Vaticanus B (3773)

A great period of exploration across the entire globe began with the arrival of Christopher Columbus in America at the end of the 15th century. Nonetheless, this golden age of exploration also had negative aspects, the downfall of numerous ancient cultures in the newly discovered and colonized regions among them. Thankfully, a few artifacts and texts have survived, which contain knowledge about these lost worlds. The so-called Codex B of the Bibilioteca Apostolica Vaticana has a special place in the pre-colonial culture of the Aztecs in Mexico.

A Typical Aztec Manuscript

Codex 3773 or Codex Vaticanus B has preserved its pre-colonial look and feel and as a result is a unique testimonial to its provenance. The codex consisting of 48 parchment sheets measures 15.5 x 13.5 cm when folded and when opened is 7.3 meters long altogether! The double-sided, painted Mexican manuscript presents Aztecs culture, its foundations, and rituals in wonderful miniatures.

The Aztec Calendar in Focus

Aside from calculating the phases of the moon, feast days, and the 260 days comprising the Aztec calendar with monthly rules found in Codex Vaticanus B, one finds inter alia twelve chapters with a detailed explanation of the zodiac and a seven-part text with a comprehensive planetary theory. Additionally, the illuminated manuscript provide details about the already ancient doctrine of humors, which was also practiced in far-flung regions like Mexico. What’s more, medical considerations are discussed such as bloodletting, visually testing blood, bathing, and cupping, in addition to a few efficacious recipes.

The Manuscript’s Artistic Content

All of these diverse aspects of Aztec culture present themselves to the attentive observer in brightly-colored miniatures, which combine human and animal figures with abstract, meaningful geometric patterns. There are also large-format primary pictures surrounded by pictorial friezes alongside tabular-designed pages. These appear almost like a metaphorical language. The Codex Vaticanus B – as a part of the Borgia Manuscript Collection of the Vatican Library – and its **fascinating picture program give an exciting glimpse into Aztec Mexico, allowing an entire culture to come to life!

Codicology

Alternative Titles
Codice Vaticano B
Size / Format
96 pages / 15.5 x 13.5 cm (total length: 7.3 metres)

1 available facsimile edition(s) of „Codex Vaticanus B (3773)“

Codex Vaticanus B (3773)
Codex Vaticanus B (3773) – Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (Vatican City, State of the Vatican City)
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Codex Vaticanus B (3773)

1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size)
Publisher
Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) – Graz, 1972
Binding
In leporello folding. Encased in box with leather spine.
Commentary
1 volume (48 pages) by F. Anders
Language: German

F. Anders, Vienna, 48 pp. text, 9 text ill., 1 fould-out-plate.
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