The Huitzilopochtli Facsimile Reading Room

In The Huitzilopochtli Facsimile Reading Room Udolpho presents photographically reproduced facsimiles of the five best preserved pre-Conquest Mesoamerican books. The small handful of these manuscripts, approximately ten in total, which survived the systematic destruction of the colonising Europeans today count as amongst the rarest books in the world—describing a civilisation that no longer exists, in symbols which have yet to be fully deciphered. What is clear however is that these symbols are not simply pictures but complex writing systems:

“Mixtec and Aztec writing is semasiographic in that it conveys meaning directly to the reader without usually having to form words. Largely pictorial, or iconic, it is composed predominantly of figural images that bear some likeness to, or visual association with, the ideas, things, or actions they represent … Aztec and Mixtec writing also contains abstractions and other marks that were arbitrarily assigned certain meanings, meanings unrelated to their likeness. In addition, Mexican pictography has a logographic or phonetic component, where some images intentionally represent voiced words or sounds. The pictorial writing of the Aztecs and Mixtecs is thus not purely one kind of writing or another. Instead, abstract conventions and phonetic referents join the fundamental pictography to form a composite system that could function across linguistic boundaries” (Boone 1973).

Available for reference is an English translation of the Historia general de las cosas de la Nueva España (General History of the Things of New Spain—also called The Florentine Codex after the best-preserved manuscript, now in the Laurentian Library in Florence) arguably the single most important text in our understanding of pre-Conquest Mesoamerican culture. This vast Aztec encyclopaedia was compiled by the Spanish priest Bernardo de Sahagún over the course of 50 years, beginning almost immediately after the European invasion of the Aztec empire in 1519, and has been called “one of the most remarkable accounts of a non-Western culture ever composed”—with Sahagún today described as “the first anthropologist.”

The Huitzilopochtli Facsimile Reading Room is presented in association with the Akademische Druck—u. Verlagsanstalt Graz (ADEVA). Founded in 1949, ADEVA is a leading publisher of technical facsimiles and its publications can be found in libraries worldwide.