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The Florentine Codex

The Florentine Codex
An Encyclopedia of the Nahua World in Sixteenth-Century Mexico

Scholars explore the most significant trove of Nahua culture and language: an illustrated manuscript compiled after the Spanish conquest by a Franciscan friar with many indigenous authors and painters.

September 2019
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256 pages | 8.5 x 11 | 7 color photos, 115 color and 9 b&w illus., 1 b&w map, 1 color chart/graph |

In the sixteenth century, the Franciscan friar Bernardino de Sahagún and a team of indigenous grammarians, scribes, and painters completed decades of work on an extraordinary encyclopedic project titled General History of the Things of New Spain, known as the Florentine Codex (1575–1577). Now housed in the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana in Florence and bound in three lavishly illustrated volumes, the codex is a remarkable product of cultural exchange in the early Americas.

In this edited volume, experts from multiple disciplines analyze the manuscript’s bilingual texts and more than 2,000 painted images and offer fascinating, new insights on its twelve books. The contributors examine the “three texts” of the codex—the original Nahuatl, its translation into Spanish, and its painted images. Together, these constitute complementary, as well as conflicting, voices of an extended dialogue that occurred in and around Mexico City. The volume chapters address a range of subjects, from Nahua sacred beliefs, moral discourse, and natural history to the Florentine artists’ models and the manuscript’s reception in Europe. The Florentine Codex ultimately yields new perspectives on the Nahua world several decades after the fall of the Aztec empire.


Honorable Mention, 2021 LASA Mexico Humanities Book Prize
Latin American Studies Association, Mexico Section

  • Preface and Acknowledgments
  • Introduction. An Encyclopedia of Nahua Culture: Context and Content (Kevin Terraciano)
  • Part I. The Art of Translation
    • Chapter 1. Images in Translation: A Codex “Muy Historiado” (Jeanette Favrot Peterson)
    • Chapter 2. On the Reception of the Florentine Codex: The First Italian Translation (Ida Giovanna Rao)
    • Chapter 3. Reading between the Lines of Book 12 (Kevin Terraciano)
    • Chapter 4. The Art of War, the Working Class, and Snowfall: Reflections on the Assimilation of Western Aesthetics (Pablo Escalante Gonzalbo)
  • Part II. Lords: Royal and Sacred
    • Chapter 5. Surviving Conquest: Depicting Aztec Deities in Sahagún’s Historia (Eloise Quiñones Keber)
    • Chapter 6. Fashioning Conceptual Categories in the Florentine Codex: Old-World and Indigenous Foundations for the Rulers and the Gods (Elizabeth Hill Boone)
    • Chapter 7. Teotl and Diablo: Indigenous and Christian Conceptions of Gods and Devils in the Florentine Codex (Guilhem Olivier)
  • Part III. Ordering the Cosmos
    • Chapter 8. Ecology and Leadership: Pantitlan and Other Erratic Phenomena (Barbara E. Mundy)
    • Chapter 9. Bundling Natural History: Tlaquimilolli, Folk Biology, and Book 11 (Molly H. Bassett)
    • Chapter 10. Powerful Words and Eloquent Images (Diana Magaloni Kerpel)
  • Part IV. Social Discourse and Deviance
    • Chapter 11: Rhetoric as Acculturation: The Anomalous Book 6 (Jeanette Favrot Peterson)
    • Chapter 12. Flowers and Speech in Discourses on Deviance in Book 10 (Lisa Sousa)
    • Chapter 13. Parts of the Body: Order and Disorder (Ellen T. Baird)
  • Bibliography
  • Contributors
  • Index

Jeanette Favrot Peterson
Santa Barbara, California

Peterson is a research professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, in the Department of History of Art and Architecture, focusing on Latin American visual culture. Her most recent book is Visualizing Guadalupe: From Black Madonna to Queen of the Americas. With Kevin Terraciano, she is among the cofounders of the Digital Florentine Project, a long-term initiative launched in 2017 by the Getty Research Institute.

Kevin Terraciano
Los Angeles, California

Terraciano is a professor of history at the University of California, Los Angeles, specializing in colonial Latin America. He is the author of The Mixtecs of Colonial Oaxaca and many other writings on Mexico and Mesoamerica. Terraciano has won multiple awards for his publications, teaching, and graduate mentoring at UCLA.


“[The Florentine Codex] offers fresh insights into the production and conceptualization of the manuscript, as well as the nuancedinterchanges that occurred among its many collaborators...This book will directly appeal to those interested in sixteenth-century manuscripts of central Mexico and Nahua culture more generally. It will be an essential source for those working on the Florentine Codex.”
H-Net Reviews

“[A] lavishly illustrated volume...This is a very engaging and useful compilation of essays that help to illuminate the Florentine Codex. It is essential for all scholars of the contact period in Mexico and will serve as a point of departure for much additional research.”
The Americas

“The overall innovative quality of this volume is impressive. Above all, this important new book enhances our understanding of the Florentine Codex’s third text, its illustrations, which were clearly 'eloquent images' that gave Nahuatl and Spanish alphabetic texts their enduring power.”
Journal of Interdisciplinary History

The Florentine Codex provides a rich scholarly dialogue among the contributors. They commonly accept the alphabetic texts and images of the Florentine Codex as a bicultural product, but they differ in their approaches to the codex by emphasizing either indigenous or European tradition depending on their scholarly interest. Yet, their studies perfectly and harmoniously fit in the book by complementing one another. There is no doubt that this collection will serve as an important source for the scholars and students of pre-Hispanic and colonial Mexico for many years to come.”
Bulletin of Spanish Studies

“This book is an important contribution to Sahaguntine studies in its collection of insightful essays by established scholars, including revised versions of some now-classic scholarship. The relatively succinct chapters are well suited for university instruction, for both core curricula and specialized courses. It is a beautifully illustrated volume that will appeal to anyone interested in the early modern humanities.”
Renaissance Quarterly

“A wonderful compilation of essays that will no doubt spark much discussion and generate future studies.”
Patrick Hajovsky, Southwestern University


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