Codex Cospi is a screen fold manuscript, a tira, from the Puebla-Tlaxcala region of Mexico dating from the post-conquest period of mid-sixteenth century to 1600. It is an almanac for religious leaders in divination and ritual events. Pictographs, or read images, of deities, day symbols, ceremonials, and deity impersonators in the Mesoamerican tradition comprise the content of this guide written for the indigenous ritual practitioners. It contains no Spanish or indigenous language text. It is one of the Borgia Group of manuscripts. The format of Codex Cospi is nearly square, when closed measuring 178 mm high by 178.5 mm wide and twenty mm thick. When opened, it measures 364 cm. Five rectangular polished leather strips of varying lengths were glued together to create the support for this codex. This support is covered with a thin stucco layer painted with polychrome organic and inorganic pigments. There are twenty pages on the obverse side and eighteen on the reverse side.
Containing twenty-four illustrations, these appear on the front and back sides of the codex. The thirteen pages of images occurring on the obverse side make up the tōnalpōhualli, the 260-day cycle Aztec calendar. The eleven pictorial pages on the reverse contain the tonalamatl, the divinatory rituals. Codex Cospi is in the collection of the Biblioteca Universitaria di Bologna.
Two Artists’ Tools of the Trade Identified
Scholars have analyzed the technique and style of the images throughout the codex to determine how many artists, or tlacuilos, worked on the manuscript and the training they received. It has been established that there were two artists who painted the pictographs in Codex Cospi, one per side. Both artists understood Mesoamerican pictographs and religious iconography.
The first artist painted the images on the obverse side using continuous, smooth black outlines to create forms filled with opaque pigments. The artist’s tool was a brush firmly grasped by a tight fist, held in a vertical position.
This discovery led scholars to believe the images on this side of the codex were created by an indigenous artist trained in the traditional Mesoamerican style of pictographs. Before beginning the figural art, the artist squared the page using thin red lines to create boxes for days of the calendar.
Reserve side images indicate that the second artist painted this side of the codex. The artist had knowledge of the iconography and pictographic tradition but had some training in western art styles, draftsmanship, and exposure to European manuscripts.
To compose each page, the artist divided it into two horizontal portions using a fine graphite line. Pigments used on the reverse side were brighter than those used on the obverse. Close, magnified examination shows that the black outlines were created using some type of nib and pen rather than a brush. This evidence suggests the second artist may have been an indigenous artist trained by Catholic clerics.
The white pigment, made from a rehydrated gypsum material, was applied to both sides of the manuscript by the same craftsman. Pigments are those that were available in the region where the Codex Cospi was produced. These include mineral pigments such as bitumen, orpiments, and ochre; organic pigments like an indigo-like flower, many other flowers and leaves, achiote, and blends of mineral and organic pigments to create Maya blue.
Detailed Content in Four Parts
The obverse of the codex make up the three of the four sections. Pages one through eight of the codex form the compete almanac of the 260-day calendar. Arranged in five tiers of fifty-two days, they are read from the lower left of page one to the upper right of page eight.
Pages nine through eleven show the Venus deity piercing five figures, each representing a four-day period. These periods were thought to be hazardous for these entities. The next two pages, twelve and thirteen, are divided into four parts signifying the cardinal points. The images portray deities and deity impersonators placing offerings in front of temples, symbolizing both positive and negative predictions.
The reverse side of the codex portrays rituals that evolve around presenting counted bundles to certain deities. Bestowing these bundles was a method of ensuring safety and good luck. Many of the same scenes from all four sections of Codex Cospi also appear in other Borgia Group manuscripts.
Problematic Provenance Aided by Visual Analysis
Scholars have debated the date and place of the manufacture of Codex Cospi. Early researchers believed this manuscript was Mixtec and may also be a pre-conquest work. Later studies on the codex’s stylistic features have led to a better understanding of its temporal aspects.
One study looks at the costume of the deities and deity impersonators, comparing them to known Mixtec resources and considering other archaeological and ethno-historical data as well. The conclusion of this study indicates that costume components and iconographic details differ from those in Mixtec imagery. Instead, they are like visual features in the art of the Puebla-Tlaxcala region, especially the painting in the Tizatlan Altar in the city of Tizatlan, Tlaxcala, Mexico.
Another study was an analysis of the draftsmanship, examining details such as the rendering of the human form, animals, and ritual knives shown in the day signs of the calendar. The result of this study concludes there are features of the artists’ work to indicate training and exposure to European techniques, concluding that the Codex Cospi was created after 1519 and is not a pre-conquest artifact.
Scholars have determined that a Spanish Dominican cleric, Domingo de Betanzos, took the manuscript to Bologna after obtaining it from Pope Clement VII in 1533. A frontispiece in the work established that the codex was in the collection of Count Valerio Cospi of Bologna by 1665.
This frontispiece indicates it was given by Count Cospi to Marquis of Petrioli, Ferdinando Cospi, a collector of curiosities. Also, revealed by this parchment is that this volume was originally thought to be from China. "China" was rubbed off and "Mexico" written in its place. Lorenzo Legati, a seventeenth-century Italian writer, was the first to identify the codex as being Mexican.
Sometime between 1665 and 1677, Ferdinando Cospi’s cabinet of curiosities was given to the city of Bologna becoming the Cospi Museum. In 1742, the museum was relocated to the Istituto delle Scienze. On June 6, 1743, the codex was transferred to the Room of Antiquities at this institute. Istituto delle Scienze was incorporated into the Biblioteca Universitaria di Bologna.
The deerskin leather is bound with seventeenth-century Italian parchment circa 1665. The parchment cover is embellished with fan motifs in a golden color in each corner. In the center of the cover in the inscription by Count Valerio Cospi.