- The Florentine Codex: An Encyclopedia of the Nahua World in Sixteenth-Century Mexico ed. by Jeanette Favrot Peterson and Kevin Terraciano
This lavishly illustrated volume is the fruit of a conference held in 2015 at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the Getty Center that focused on the visual and textual dialogues of the Florentine Codex. That conference also helped to launch a new focus on the codex in its manifold presences: as a trilingual document (Spanish, Nahuatl, and images), as the fruit of a cultural dialogue, and as an artifact of a time and place, to mention just a few. The essays collected in this volume are important contributions in our ever expanding and deepening knowledge about Sahagún, his work, the codex, and life in Mexico both before and after the Spanish invasion. The scholars responsible for the essays are noted specialists in their fields.
Terraciano provides a very valuable overview to the codex and its history in his introduction to the work. His introduction also helps to place the essays of the book into a common context and to explore some of the questions that those essays raise. The work is divided into four parts, each of which has either three or four essays. Given the collaborative and multifaceted nature of the codex, the first section addresses the question of translations from four very distinct points of view. Modern scholarship recognizes that the codex consists of three texts: two alphabetic and one of images. In her work, Jeanette Favrot Peterson explores not just the European models used by the native artists, but also the indigenous meanings that were part and parcel of those images. The resulting images could then appeal to and be interpreted by both European and native readers. Ida Giovanna Rao’s work focuses on an early Italian translation of the text commissioned by its first owner, Cardinal Ferdinando de Medici, who later became the Grand Duke of Florence. In the third chapter, Terraciano does a masterful job of picking apart the historical narrative of the conquest in Book 12 of the codex, particularly in looking at how the three texts differ from one another. Pablo Escalante Gonzalbo analyzes the use of European models by the native scribes as they prepared the images for the text.
The second section considers the Sacred and Royal Lords, elites and deities, as they appear in the codex. One of Sahagún’s stated purposes in writing the work was to assist local priests in better eradicating the vestiges of the old religion. Eloise Quiñones Keber analyzes the evolution of the depiction of the deities and their festivals, from Sahagún’s first notes collected in Tepepulco to the product that was the Florentine Codex. Looking at lords and deities, Elizabeth Hill Boone concludes that in the pictures in the codex, the deities in particular, were presented in such a way as to strip them of many of their pre-contact meanings, to become merely pictures of beings looking like people. [End Page 474] Guilhem Olivier also explores this feature of the depictions of the deities and of devils, exploring the very terms used by Sahagún and his native collaborators as they wrestled with concepts of the divine.
The ordering of the cosmos provides the theme for the third section of the book. The Mexica envisioned a world at balance. Consequently, things that upset the balance were of concern. Barbara Mundy explores the imbalance provided by a whirlpool and an animal that violated Nahua notions of order, a kind of nutria. Molly Bassett studies important religious and conceptual power provided by the Nahua notion of a bundle, tlaquimilolli, as represented in the codex. Diana Magaloni Kerpel explores the intersection between the spoken word and images in the codex to discover meaning in ritual discourse.
The fourth part of the book builds on this discussion to consider social discourse and deviance as depicted in the...