Codex Ixtlilxochitl is a pictorial manuscript created in central Mexico for the European reader. Primarily a ritual calendar dating from c. 1580-1600, it contains images, glosses, and text describing Nahuatl feast days, deities, and indigenous life events of the Pre-Columbian period. One of the Magliabechiano Group of postconquest manuscripts, it is named for Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxochitl, a mestizo descendant of Texcoco rulers, judicial governor of Texcoco and Chalco Tlalmanalco, and translator for the viceroyalty in Mexico City. Also called Aubin Manuscript, Codex Aubin, and Codex Goupil, the codex was housed in several collections before being acquired by the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris.
Comprised of three distinct parts, Codex Ixtlilxochitl has twenty-seven European paper folios with twenty-nine illustrations. The first part has twenty-two colored pictographs, Spanish text, and indigenous language glosses based on the Magliabechiano Prototype. Part two contains five figural images, a temple rendering, and commentary in Spanish attributed to Juan Bautista Pomar and his work Relación de Texcoco (1582). The third part is an unillustrated fragment of Historia General (1576) by Franciscan friar Bernardino de Sahagún.
Pictographs and Figural Illustrations Enrich the Ritual Calendar
Each folio of part one, fols. 94-104, has a pictograph representing a calendar feast day in the upper portion with blank space below for glosses and texts. Pictographs drawn with less impactful lines than images in other Magliabechiano Group manuscripts indicate the artist was untrained in Mesoamerican art styles. Among these images are two adaptations of Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent deity central to Nahautl religion.
Figural images rendered by a different artist in European Renaissance-proportions appear in part two, fols. 105-112. These figures of Texcocan lords and rain god Tloloc display brilliantly embellished mantles, traditional tonsures, ritual objects, and battle attire. A picture of Texcoco’s Temple Mayor appears this section.
Contributions of the Three Scribes
Scholars have determined two scribes contributed to the first part of Codex Ixtlilxochitl. Using light brown ink, Scribe A wrote the Nahautl and Maya glosses along with Spanish explanatory text. Scribe B added the Otomi glosses at a later date. The hands of both scribes differ from those in the second and third parts of the codex.
The hand of the second part has not been identified. Unillustrated part three of the manuscript is a discourse on the Aztec calendar in Spanish. It is believed to have been copied from a portion of Sahagún’s Historia General by Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxochitl.
Many Collections and Available to Scholars
The manuscript passed through several owners. At the end of the seventeenth century it was in the library of Carlos de Sigüenza y Góngara, a Jesuit priest and historian in Mexico City. All three sections of the Codex Ixtlilxochitl were bound with other fragments into a work entitled Fragmentos de Historia Mexicana. The folio numbering likely reflects the numbering when bound with other fragments.
At Sigüenza y Góngara’s death, documents on indigenous people were bequeathed to the Jesuit Colegio de San Pedro y San Pablo in Mexico City. By 1743 the codex was owned by Italian collector Lorenzo Boturini Benaduci but remained in Mexico. Codex Ixtlilxochitl was removed from the Boturini Benaduci collection, in 1780 it was owned by Mexican antiquarian Juan Eugenio de Santelizes Pablo.
In 1840, the Parisian collector Joseph Marius Alexis Aubin owned the codex and made it available to researchers. One researcher was Jules Desportes whose drawings of select illustrations were later added to Diego Duran’s Historia de las Indias de Nueva España (c. 1867).
Collector E. Eugene Goupil of Paris purchased the codex in 1889. In Goupil’s collection it was cataloged by plate number corresponding to the plates of Desportes’s drawings in Duran’s work, giving it catalog number 65-71. In 1889, on Goupil’s death, the Codex Ixtlilxochitl became part of the collection of Bibliothèque Nationale de France in Paris. The shelfmark incorporates the catalog number from Goupil’s library.
- Images courtesy of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France