A cypher in the Florentine Codex

We have only started to understand that the pictorial narratives in the Florentine Codex are arguably more important than the Spanish language texts. Those “pinturas” are not simply illustrations added for the pleasure of the reader. From the indigenous perspective, they are, together with their orally transmitted memories, the primary source that would be transcribed to Nahuatl and then translated into Spanish. The difficulty with reading the Codex in this way lies in that we are missing a substantial amount of the scholarly knowledge of these indigenous intellectuals who painted the images. The handicap we have in reading these images is probably something we share with the majority of the Spanish friars and contemporary colonial bureaucrats who ever had access to this manuscript.

Sahagún’s handwritten title to “Relación del autor digna de ser notada”; kneeling man, under the phrase “and therefore the indians die with no remedy or help”. Book X of the Florentine Codex, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Med. Palat. 218–220. World Digital Library https://lccn.loc.gov/2021667855 images 144 and 171.

The (mostly) empty, rolling green landscapes with body parts and the tragic figure of the kneeling man reflect the desolation and indigenous depopulation caused by disease and disorder even as trenches were being dug for the victims in the plaza outside the scriptorium of the Colegio de Santa Cruz, Tlatelolco. As Sahagún and his collaborators worked, despair and the smell of death hung in the air. (Baird, 2019: p.213)

Bernardino de Sahagun’s “Note”, the concluding essay of the Florentine Codex, on the fate of the conversion enterprise by the religious orders, starting in folio 233r of Book XI. Note the sparse images after a page with the Popocatepetl, and before pages showing the various forms of buildings and constructions.
Book XI. folio 236v. An allegory of the fate of indigenous peoples?
The coyote threatens Mexico Tenochtitlan. Book XI. folio 236v.
Desolate land. Book XI. folio 236v.
A Cypher. Book XI. folio 236v.
Ixmiquilpan convent Southern wall, the starting point of the mural paintings. Wikimedia commons



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Alberto Diaz-Cayeros

Alberto Diaz-Cayeros

Mexicano orgulloso, migrante renuente. Economista ITAM y Politólogo Duke. Senior Fellow en CDDRL y Director Centro Estudios Latinoamericanos Stanford University