In the 16th century, a Franciscan friar, Bernardino de SahagĂșn, worked with indigenous people from central Mexico, recording their memories of pre-Hispanic life. Among the topics they covered were religious practices in the Aztec empire, as well as indigenous trades and crafts. The result was a multi-volume encyclopedia, today known as the Florentine Codex. One of the richest sources on pre-Hispanic life to survive from the early colonial period, the Florentine Codex includes texts in parallel columns written in Nahuatl and Spanish and hundreds of illustrations, all set down on paper by indigenous painters and scribes. As is the case here, the Nahuatl sections are often more discursive than the Spanish.

These excerpts focus upon the exquisite and prized art of working with feathers, and the image of one of these pages, showing the column of Nahuatl text and illustrations, can be seen in the Mechanics gallery of Vistas.
Visual Culture
These excerpts from the Florentine Codex discuss the laborious technique used to create extraordinary feather paintings. Here, colored feathers are hardened with glue, the more common feathers used as a base to hold rarer ones of similar color. The feathers are then affixed paper to create the design. Feathers, especially brilliantly-colored ones, were highly admired—the writer of this section refers to them as "precious." To acquire them, feather painters must have relied on supply networks established well before the conquest: earlier sections of the Florentine recount how long-distance traders (pochteca) were dispatched across the Aztec empire and beyond its borders to bring back exotic goods to the highland Valley of Mexico. Among their prizes were the colorful and luminous plumes of birds native to the tropical rain forests. Such luxury products continued to make their way into the Valley after the collapse of the Aztec empire, to be used in feather paintings made for a new class of Spanish patrons.

See the Florentine Codex's images in the Vistas Gallery.

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