This pictorial manuscript was created during the Late Postclassic period (1300-1520) in the Puebla-Tlaxcala region in Mexico’s central highlands. The Codex Borgia is known for its use of strong and detailed Nahua polychrome and monochrome iconography as well as Pre-Columbian imagery. It is a festival calendar and almanac of seasonal cycles filled with representations of deities, religious rituals and events, and glyphs. Unable to give it an exact date of manufacture, scholars believe it was made between 1450 and 1500 and painted on a reclaimed manuscript of deer skin covered in a thin layer of stucco.
An outstanding example of the Mesoamerican screen fold manuscript format, it is also known as the Codex Borgianus and Codex Mexicanus Borgianus. The screen fold manuscript contains 78 single fold pages, 76 of which contain images. Closed dimensions are 26.5 x 27 centimeters. When fully opened, it measures approximately 11 meters in length.
The Codex Borgia takes its name from Cardinal Stefano Borgia (1731-1804) who left it to the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana in Vatican City. It is part of the Borgia Group of manuscripts, five hand painted high-quality manuscripts located in various European libraries. Other titles in the Borgia Group are Codex Cospi, Codex Vaticanus 3773 (Codex Vaticanus B), Codex Fejérváry-Mayer, and Codex Laud. Manuscripts in this group contain similar images, subject content, and painting and composition style.
Imagery of the Celestial Rise of Venus
The cosmic imagery narrative within the codex uses glyphs and iconography to depict the heliacal rise of Venus features Quetzalcoatl, the Nahua feathered serpent god associated with Venus. This same imagery appears in other manuscripts of the Borgia Group. Tlaloc, the water god, is frequently represented as well in this almanac.
Rituals and festivals marking the revolution of Venus and other important cosmic events are pictured as taking place in the four-sided ceremonial center typical of Mesoamerican architectural complexes. Some illustrations are divided into four quarters with each quarter containing a likeness of deities relative to a ceremony or feast day.
Ritual Narratives in Pictography
The Codex Borgia uses pictography to lead the reader through the cycles of the astronomical calendar and associated celebrations. Pictographs, typical in Mesoamerican art styles, use not only images of gods and religious symbols but also rely on the composition of the image to tell the story and show the sequence of events within a given ceremony.
Colors and ritualistic attire are important elements of the pictographs in conveying cultural information to the viewer. Within the codex there are illustrations of the tonalpohualli, the Nahua 260-day calendar.
From Puebla-Tlaxcala to the Vatican
The manuscript was created in the Tehuacán Valley of central Mexico in the present states of Puebla and Tlaxcala where there is a dedicated connection to a cult of Venus. Some scholars believe that the codex originated near the municipality of Cholula.
Little is known of the provenience of the Codex Borgia between the time of creation to 1805, when it was discovered in the manuscript collection of Cardinal Stefano Borgia (1731-1804) by geographer and explorer Alexander von Humboldt. It then became part of the manuscript collections in the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana.
Covers of the manuscript are made of wooden panels.
We have 3 facsimiles of the manuscript "Codex Borgia":
- Códice Borgia facsimile edition published by Egeria, S.L.
- Codex Borgia facsimile edition published by Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA), 1976
- Códice Borgia facsimile edition published by Testimonio Compañía Editorial, 2008