Codex Magliabechiano is a sixteenth-century manuscript created in Mexico for the European audience to educate the reader on indigenous culture. Containing Aztec ethnographic material, this manuscript is considered to be the most authentic copy of the lost Magliabechiano Prototype. Content is divided into six sections of images, glosses, and descriptive text that include ritual mantles, the twenty days of the day-count, the years of the fifty-two-year calendar cycle, eighteen monthly feast days, pulque gods, rituals and deities.
Also known as Codice Magliabechiano, it is comprised of ninety-two folios and incorporates ninety-nine illustrations in the Mesoamerican pictographic tradition. Scholars have identified two artists and two scribes who contributed to the manufacture of this codex. It is now in the collection of the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, Florence.
Pictograph Tradition Copied from Libro de Figuras
The manuscript’s images are forceful, subdued in color compared to other Magliabechiano Group codices. Using shades of green, ochre, red, light blue, white, and black two artists copied designs of ceremonial tilmatlis (mantles), feast day iconography, deities, and religious culture. Artist A and Artist B, working under mendicant friars, replicated pictures from Libro de Figuras, another now-lost copy of the Magliabechiano Prototype.
Artist A mastered the Mesoamerican style, producing pictographs in the ethnic manner. He varied his work from other copyists of the Libro de Figuras by starting images on the recto of the first folio rather than the verso of the first folio. Starting the codex in this way indicates that he was familiar with European manuscripts that begin on the first folio recto.
Accustomed to Aztec style and iconography, Artist B was also aware of European visual devices like linear perspective and modeling using shades of color. Contrasts in the work of both artists can be seen in Artist A’s pulque god on fol. 53r where color washes and even black lines are employed and Artist B’s pulque god on fol. 51r using varied black lines and freely applied pigment.
Two Scribes Wrote at Different Times
Scribe A transcribed the complete text after the images were painted. His handwriting is clear, creating easy-to-read Gothic-style letters. The glosses translating Nahuatl to Spanish imply that he understood both languages and indigenous iconography but he did make some transcription errors.
Scribe B, introduced to the manuscript later in the sixteen century, annotated some of the images clarifying the understanding of depicted topics. His handwriting is cursive in form. An example of Scribe B’s hand can be seen on fol. 73r.
Collected by the Librarian of Cosimo III de Medici
Anthropologist Zelia Nuttall, who discovered the Codex Magliabechiano in Florence, wrote that Mexican intellectual Don Carlos de Sigüenza y Góngora presented the manuscript to Italian traveler Giovanni Francesco Gemelli Careri during the late seventeenth century.
By the early eighteenth century it was in the collection of Antonio Magliabechi, court librarian to Cosimo III de Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany. It remained in the Magliabechi Collection until 1862 when it was transferred to the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, Florence.
Measuring twenty-two centimeters wide by sixteen centimeters high, the Codex Magliabechiano is an example of à l’Italienne format, distinct from other codices in the group. The quarto-size folios were made from full sheets cut in half horizontally, assembled in units, stitched down the center then folded to create the gatherings. It is missing three of the original folios.
Bound in brown leather, it is fashioned from three types of European papers. One type of paper comprises the body of the manuscript. At the front are three numbered sheets of paper, probably added when it was rebound between 1903 and 1970. A folio of a third paper type can be found between the title page and the modern paper.