Thèse : Chalchiuitl on paper: Reading the illustrations of jade in Book XI of “The Florentine Codex”


  • Bernick, Alex Martin
  • Buono, Amy. Directeur


This thesis examines the illustrations of jade in Book XI of the twelve volume, sixteenth century Colonial Mexican manuscript, The Florentine Codex, or the Historia General de las Cosas de Nueva España . The book, a project led by Franciscan monk, Bernardino de Sahagún, records the Nahua world. These pictures of jade do not appear similar to most of the images contained within Book XI, as these are uncolored and use a different model to depict jade. By examining the individual elements of these pictures and the models used for this book and its illustrations, the jade images present a unique insight into the role of jade and stone in sixteenth-century Mexico.

Sahagún was commissioned by the Franciscan Order to create a manuscript that could be used as a dictionary to aid the friars in communication and religious conversion with the native population of Central Mexico. He used native assistants trained at the mendicant school in Tlatelolco, where he had taught. By the end of the project, Sahagún was facing pressure from Spanish church and royal officials to end his research on the Nahua culture due to its recording of a pagan religion. The project was hurried and some illustrations had to be rushed. These jade illustrations show the effects of the rush. The artists had to create images that depicted the stone’s appearance without paint. They achieved this task by relying on the pre-Hispanic pictorial tradition. By depicting each jade stone’s appearance in symbolic forms, the illustrators represented both the stone’s physical appearance and metaphorical associations. The three jades—quetzalitztliquetzalchalchiuitl, and chalchiuitl—distinguish how Nahua society valued differing characteristics of these stones. Importantly, the color of these stones created value and symbolic significance. The illustrations of jade provide a window into the sixteenth-century Aztec epistemology of color.

The artists also used previous models from earlier and contemporary natural histories. By combining European and pre-Hispanic pictorial traditions, the illustrators create unique works that aligns best with Sahagún’s goal to produce a book for friars to understand the vocabulary of the native population. These illustrations of jade should be considered as a third text to the Spanish and transliterated Nahuatl, as they best reveal jade’s place within Nahua culture and how metaphors were created and used in Nahua rhetoric.

Informations pratiques

  • Dallas (Texas) : Southern Methodist University, 2011
  • M.A. : Art History : Southern Methodist University : 2011

Citer ce billet
Olivier Jacquot (2023, 23 mars). Thèse : Chalchiuitl on paper: Reading the illustrations of jade in Book XI of “The Florentine Codex”. Amoxcalli. Consulté le 24 avril 2024, à l’adresse

Olivier Jacquot

Chargé de collections : manuscrits des fonds américains, Service des manuscrits ORientaux (SOR), département des Manuscrits (MSS), Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF)

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