Codex Vaticanus B is one of the Borgia Group of screen fold, Mesoamerican codices. Created in the fourteenth through sixteenth centuries in the Puebla-Tlaxcala region of Mexico, it is a handbook for indigenous religious leaders. Like other codices in this group, Codex Vaticanus B is a tonal containing calendars and almanacs used by day keepers to guide prognostications, celebrations, and other religious events. It utilizes pictographs, or tlacuilolli, to convey information through iconography, depictions of deities and objects containing meaning to the reader. There is no alphabetic text in this manuscript. It is the largest of the Borgia codices and the only one that is protected by authentic wooden covers.
Comprised of forty-eight pages, it contains ninety-six vividly colored illustrations. The support for Codex Vaticanus B is deerskin covered with a thin gesso. It is in the collection of the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana in Rome.
Stylistic Similarities with other Borgia Codices
The actual place of origin of Codex Vaticanus B is unknown. However, by analyzing stylistic features, scholars placed its region of origin in the Cholula area of the Puebla-Tlaxcala Valley of southern Mexico. The other manuscripts of the Borgia group also originate in this area. Catalina polychrome codex-type ceramics of this region show the same eagle claw and double maize ear iconography seen in this manuscript. These same features also appear in the Codex Borgia and Codex Cospi. Clothing motifs represented in Codex Vaticanus B are analogous to those seen in the Tizatlan alter.
Codex Vaticanus B exhibits additional similarities to other titles in the Borgia group. Consistent use of red lines as a compositional device dividing pages into distinct spaces for day signs, patrons, and lords to layout tlacuilolli is a common feature. Other typical characteristics of the Borgia group are almanacs for Venus and lunar events as well as symbolic animal images such as serpents, birds, mammals appearing throughout to signify deities. Codex Fejérváry-Mayer and Codex Vaticanus B include four pictures of animals as aggressors against humans. Chapters relating to foretelling marriages appear in Codex Vaticanus B and Codex Borgia.
Codex Vaticanus B has traits that are unique to the group. These include: twenty percent of the manuscript dedicated to the thirteen-day periods, implying the value of these cycles; divination highlighted on pages sixty-seven and sixty-eight with depictions of two games (patolli and a ball game using a net-covered ball, used for diving); page seventy-two illustrates nine pulque drinkers in a fifty-two-day period (the first drinker is the Ollin figure that is associated with movement and change); images of beans or maize kernels to indicate day signs, and dots decorating colored surfaces.
Red and deep red-brown are dominant colors with blue, gold, gray, and black used in smaller amounts. Scholars comparing the artistic style of Codex Vanticanus B to Codex Laud and Codex Borgia stated it appears careless.
Long Term Ownership by Vatican Library
How Codex Vaticanus B traveled to Europe is unknown. The examination of early publications reveals that it has been in the Vatican collection since the end of the sixteen century. In 1589 it is mentioned in a work written by Vatican physician Michele Mercati. An inventory of the year 1596 titles the codex "Indorum Cultus, Delineamenta et Effigies" revealing that the religious content of the codex was known and identified.
During the seventeenth century, a rendering of page 96 depicting the body of a deer-man featuring day signs and divinatory attributes was published in a book on Egyptian hieroglyphics by Athanius Kircher. José Lino Fábrega, a former priest, published the first commentary of the codex in 1902 after locating the book in the Vatican Library at the end of the eighteenth century.
Traditional Mesoamerican Construction
Codex Vaticanus B exhibits the recognizable screen fold, or tira, the typical format of Mesoamerican codices. Ten strips of deerskin glued together form the support structure of this work. Covering the skins is a thin coating of a lime-based stucco-like material to fashion a paintable surface. When closed, it measures nearly fifteen by close to thirteen cms. When unfolded, it measures 724 cms.
Codex Vaticanus B is bound in wooden covers.