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The World of the Aztecs in the Florentine Codex

I.G. Rao e D. Magaloni

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edited by I.G. Rao e D. Magaloni

Florence, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, 29-30 September 2007

September 2007
140 x 200 mm; 64 pp.
50 colour illustrations

978-88-7461-102-7 English
978-88-7461-101-0 Italian

On the occasion of the European Heritage Days (29-30 September 2007), the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana celebrates one of the most famous 16th-century codices in its collections, MS Med. Palat. 218–20, containing the final version of the Historia general de las cosas de Nueva España (“General History of the Things of New Spain”) by Bernardino de Sahagún (1499-1590) and commonly referred to as the Florentine Codex.

A Spanish Franciscan friar who had arrived in Mexico as a missionary after the conquest of the region by Cortés (1519–21), Sahagún devoted his life to the study of indigenous cultures. Much like a modern-day anthropologist, he prepared questionnaires for prominent native elders, and from 1558, with the help of young Nahua students who had studied under him at Tlatelolco, compiled an unprecedented encyclopedia about the peoples and cultures of Central America. With its twelve books written in Nahuatl (the language most widely spoken in the region) and translated into Spanish, and its over 2,000 colour illustrations, the Florentine Codex is an extraordinary source of information about the myths, religious beliefs and practices, everyday life, history, traditional crafts and even eating habits of the Aztecs, with large sections devoted to animals and plants and a moving account of the Spanish Conquest and its devastating consequences.

It soon began to be suggested that the Historia might encourage idolatry, and in 1577 Philip II of Spain ordered that all of Sahagún’s writings should be sent to Spain so as to prevent the work’s circulation. The friar wrote to the king himself in order to find out whether the precious codex had reached Europe, but never knew what had happened to it. At the age of almost eighty he set to work once again, spending his last years desperately trying to recover the material he believed had been lost.

Table of contents

Preface, by F. Arduini

The Florentine Codex
essays by I.G. Rao and D. Magaloni

Images from the Codex
edited by A. Pecci

1. The gods
2. Sacrifice
3. Anthropophagy
4. The tzompantli
5. The Templo Mayor of Tenochtitlán
6. Games
7. Warriors
8. The rabbit in the Moon
9. The calendar
10. ‘Baptism’ and school
11. Feather art
12. The loom
13. Merchants
14. Cacao and chocolate
15. Pulque
16. Agriculture and food preparation
17. Fauna
18. Smoking
19. The arrival of Cortés
20. The Conquest

Index of illustrations from the Codex