Scholars from UCLA’s Latin American Institute are celebrating Getty’s release of the digital version of the Florentine Codex, an unparalleled repository of 16th-century Indigenous Mexican knowledge and culture. The digital version now makes this unique resource easily accessible to the general public for the first time.
“There is nothing in the world quite like the Florentine Codex,” said Kevin Terraciano, chair of the UCLA history department and co-founder of the project. “It is the most remarkable cultural and intellectual product of the early Americas.”
The 12-book manuscript is an encyclopedia of Aztec (or Nahua) knowledge written by Nahua authors and artists in the mid-16th century. They developed the manuscript with Franciscan friar Bernardino de Sahagún from Spain at the Colegio Imperial de Santa Cruz in Tlatelolco. The 2,500-page codex was written in Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs, and translated into Spanish by the friar. The two texts appear side by side in the handwritten manuscript (and in the digital version), along with more than 2,000 images drawn and painted by Indigenous artists.
“The fact that many Nahuatlaca (Nahua people) in Mexico, including Nahua scholars who are working with us on the initiative, did not even know about the Florentine Codex before we began collaborating, suggests the real value of the project,” Terraciano said.
The online manuscript features high-resolution images created at the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana in Florence, where the original manuscript resides; new translations of the Nahuatl and Spanish texts; a searchable database of texts and images; and a narration in Nahuatl of the final book of the codex, which recounts the conquest of Mexico from the Aztec point of view. Getty will publish an online edited volume on that book in 2025.
“Being able to discover relevant images and text passages with a simple keyword search will revolutionize the study of this manuscript and deepen our insights of early modern Mexico,” said Kim Richter, who earned her Ph.D. in art history at UCLA and is senior research specialist at the Getty Research Institute.
“We are eager to see how scholars will utilize this resource to better understand the agency of the individual authors and artists who worked on the codex — Sahagún and his many Nahua collaborators,” said Richter, who is also a co-founder of the Getty project.
In accordance with the Latin American Institute’s longstanding commitment to K–12 education and community outreach, UCLA has already offered workshops to help teachers develop curricula based on Indigenous primary sources, like the newly digitized codex.
UCLA also offers modern Nahuatl courses through the advanced level; several alumni have gone on to conduct research on the Florentine Codex and teach Nahuatl in Los Angeles–area schools.
UCLA’s Latin American Institute is one of four collaborators and partners on the project, along with the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, the Seaver Institute and the University of Utah Press.
UCLA-affiliated scholars who have contributed to Getty’s Florentine Codex project include:
Eduardo de la Cruz, Nahuatl instructor, UCLA; director, IDIEZ, Zacatecas, Mexico; research consultant, Getty Research Institute
Sabina Cruz de la Cruz, Nahuatl instructor, UCLA; instructor, IDIEZ, Zacatecas, Mexico; research consultant, Getty Research Institute
Rebecca Dufendach, UCLA Ph.D., history; assistant teaching professor, Loyola University Maryland
León García Garagarza, UCLA Ph.D., history; research specialist, Getty Research Institute
Alicia Maria Houtrouw, UCLA M.A., Latin American studies; senior project manager, Getty Research Institute
Jeannette Peterson, UCLA Ph.D., art history; professor emeritus of art history, UCSB
Kim Richter, UCLA Ph.D., art history; senior research specialist, Getty Research Institute
Lisa Sousa, UCLA Ph.D., history; professor of history, Occidental College
Kevin Terraciano, UCLA Ph.D., history; Robert N. Burr Endowed History Department Chair, UCLA
Roxanne Valle, UCLA M.A., Latin American studies
The entire Getty project team was also assisted by scholars at Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico (UNAM) and Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (INAH), Mexico.
Both Getty and the UCLA Latin American Institute will host programs to celebrate the launch of the digital edition of the codex in the coming weeks, including a live event featuring a musical performance and interview of Richter by LAist reporter Adolfo Guzman-Lopez on Nov. 4.
The UCLA Latin American Institute and other co-sponsoring departments and centers will host a public-facing event about the Florentine Codex on the evening of Nov. 16, “The Florentine Codex: A Treasure of Indigenous Mexican Culture.” The event will be hosted by Terraciano and will feature brief remarks by many of the UCLA alumni who contributed to the project. The evening will include a demonstration of how to access and use the Digital Florentine Codex and explore several fascinating aspects of the manuscript and its importance for Indigenous history and the modern-day Nahua people of Mexico. An LAUSD teacher who has incorporated the codex into her curriculum will also speak, and UCLA students and alumni of UCLA’s Nahuatl course offerings will be in attendance.