The Codex Quetzalecatzin, an Extremely Rare Colored Mesoamerican Manuscript, Now Digitized and Put Online

To para­phrase Don­ald Rums­feld, there are known knowns in the art world, and there are unknown knowns. The Codex Quet­za­le­catzin, a rare col­ored Mesoamer­i­can man­u­script, recent­ly went from a unknown known (a French col­lec­tor owned it, and before them William Ran­dolph Hearst, and many oth­ers, for sev­er­al cen­turies) to a known known (the French col­lec­tor donat­ed it to the Library of Con­gress).

Bet­ter still, the Library has scanned the illus­trat­ed document–essentially a map of Mex­i­co City and Puebla, drawn up for both Span­ish col­o­niz­ers and indige­nous peo­ple to lay claim to the land–in super hi-res for the pub­lic and schol­ars world­wide to pore over. It dates from between 1570 and 1595.

Accord­ing to John Hessler of the Library’s Worlds Revealed blog, the map depicts the land owned by the de Leon fam­i­ly.

As is typ­i­cal for an Aztec, or Nahu­atl, codex of this ear­ly date, it relates the extent of land own­er­ship and prop­er­ties of a fam­i­ly line known as “de Leon,” most of the mem­bers of which are depict­ed on the man­u­script. With Nahu­atl styl­ized graph­ics and hiero­glyphs, it illus­trates the family’s geneal­o­gy and their descent from Lord-11 Quet­za­le­catzin, who in 1480, was the major polit­i­cal leader of the region. It is from him the Codex derives one of its many names.

The map is one of 450 sur­viv­ing pic­to­r­i­al man­u­scripts of the Mesoamer­i­can peri­od, and con­tains nat­ur­al pig­ments such as Maya blue and cochineal red (made from insects).

If it wasn’t so tied in to bloody Span­ish colo­nial­ism, you could say the Codex looks like a video game map, a la Leg­end of Zel­da. But instead it shows a region in tran­si­tion, between the old order and a new world pop­u­lat­ed by Catholic church­es, and is all the more fas­ci­nat­ing.

Click here to find the dig­i­tized ver­sion of the Codex Quet­za­le­catzin at the Library of Con­gress.

via LoC

Relat­ed Con­tent:

An Intro­duc­tion to the Codex Seraphini­anus, the Strangest Book Ever Pub­lished

Leonar­do da Vinci’s Vision­ary Note­books Now Online: Browse 570 Dig­i­tized Pages

Hear The Epic of Gil­gamesh Read in its Orig­i­nal Ancient Lan­guage, Akka­di­an

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the artist inter­view-based FunkZone Pod­cast and is the pro­duc­er of KCR­W’s Curi­ous Coast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, read his oth­er arts writ­ing at and/or watch his films here.

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