Codex Tulane is a sixteenth-century manuscript from Puebla, Mexico presenting the history of two Mixtec city-states using the Mesoamerican pictographic technique. The contents include depictions of two ruling genealogies from the regions of Acatlan and Chila. These are placed vertically along the length of the codex to establish the rightful lineage of these communities when land disputes appeared during the colonial era. It portrays 112 human figures, sixty-six male and forty-six female. This codex is one of a few extant codices in the format of a rolled cylinder scroll. When unrolled, it measures 373.5 cm in length by twenty-two cm wide. Thin deerskin leather covered in a light stucco surface forms the support for this work.
Written for indigenous and colonial audiences, the codex uses pictographs, glyphs, and iconography to communicate dates and places of events and denote deities affiliated with these southwest Puebla municipalities. The codex was repurposed in the early nineteenth century by a neighboring community to establish land entitlements. At this time a glossary, map, and more images were added. Codex Tulane is in the collection of the Latin American Library of the Howard-Tilton Library at Tulane University, New Orleans.
Design Elements Reveal Aztec, Mixtec, and European Transitions
The Codex Tulane artists have not been identified, although there is evidence that they were indigenous trained in artistic traditions stemming from the Valley of Mexico and Mixteca Baja. Features such as the leather substrate sized in lime, black contour lines for figures and objects, flat landscapes, dimensionless figures, and human heads in profile reflect strong ethnic schooling. A device of indigenous pictograph composition is missing, the use of red lines to divide up the picture plane doesn't exist in the Codex Tulane. Instead, it contains two thin vertical lines to aid the artist in composing the lineages, male figures are placed on the right of the line and females on the left of the line.
Rending of the human figures and how they are seated displays a blending of pictorial conventions from Aztec and Mixtec traditions, but also suggests European influences. Many of the women are shown seated in what is known as the Aztec woman's pose where the woman is seated on the fullness of her skirt with her legs tucked under her, torso facing the viewer, and feet off to the side.
The male and other female bodies are portrayed in the Mixtec tradition with the body in profile and feet flat on the floor. Pre-conquest portraits represent the eyeball as being in the center of the eye, some of the eyes in the codex are illustrated in this manner. Other eyes are pictured with the eyeball in the front of the eye, a technique of European artists. Proportions of the priest figures appear to be of colonial influence with the height to head ratio being one to six rather than the Valley of Mexico established ratio of one to four.
The colors used in the Codex Tulane, when compared to those of other manuscripts of the Mixtec region of northern Oaxaca and southern Puebla, are subdued and lighter in tonality, indicating that the artists had exposure to European painting. One scholar has related the artistic elements of the codex to the Ñuiñe style sculpture and ceramics of the region displaying similar iconography and glyphs. Scholars believe this work may have been copied from other pictorial manuscripts that are no longer extant.
Physical Attributes and Condition
Considering its age and history, the Codex Tulane is in good condition. Six hides were used to construct the support for the codex. A white lime-based sizing was applied to the hides to create the painting surface. In some areas, the sizing is thinner than in other sections. Illustrations and the glossary appear only on the obverse side. European script on the reverse side dating from the late sixteenth century were written directly on the hide. Traces of other inscriptions in the same hand appear in other sized places of the reverse.
There are a few tears and small holes in the codex. Stains can be seen in some portions of the work. Markings on the reverse reveal that text was erased sometime during the sixteenth century. On the back of the third hide, there are two orange circles where sealing wax was applied to affix official colonial seals in the eighteenth or nineteenth century when the document would have been rolled and sealed then submitted to the court as evidence.
Overall the colorants are mottled and some of the blue pigments have flaked away. The main palette is comprised of red, blue, brown, orange, blue-green, pink, and a pale purplish tone. Red and blue are the most prominent colors with these two colors being used in headgear and garments of the men and women.
Provenance from Repurposing to Academia
The manufacture of the Codex Tulane in post-conquest Puebla is well documented. What is unknown is where the codex was kept between the end of the sixteenth century and 1801 when it was altered and used to authenticate a land claim involving the town of San Juan Ñumi south of Chila. Until 1912 it was housed in the church of San Martin Huamelalpan in Oaxaca, Mexico.
It was stolen from the church and by 1929 was in the possession of Spanish-Mexican merchant Felix Munro. It was then sold to Alfred Onken in Tlaxiaco, Oaxaca. It was acquired by the Middle American Research Institute at Tulane University in 1932 then transferred to the Latin American Library at the Howard-Tilton Library at Tulane in 1970.