Codex Fejéváry Mayer


About this object

The Codex Fejervary Mayer was bought by Joseph Mayer, the Liverpool goldsmith and antiquarian in 1855. It had previously been in the collection of the Hungarian collector Gabriel Fejéváry. In 1867 Mayer gave his collection, including the codex to Liverpool (now World) Museum.

With the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 the codex was packed in a cardboard box along with the Rameses girdle and the Kingston brooch and carried to St Martin’s Bank, near the Town Hall in Liverpool by museum attendant George Youlton. It was placed in a sealed safety deposit box and only collected after the war was over.

Its evacuation meant the codex had survived two man-made disasters. It had survived the devastating Spanish conquest of Mexico in the 16th century and the carnage of the Second World War in 1941.

Object specifics

  • Type
  • Culture
  • Artist/Maker
  • Place made
    Americas: Central America: Mexico
  • Date made
    1521 before
  • Materials
    Deer hide; Gesso; Paint
  • Location
    Item not currently on display
  • Acquisition
    Gift of Joseph Mayer, 1867
  • Collector
    Joseph Mayer
  • Place collected
    Unknown or unrecorded
  • Date collected
    1867 before
  • Measurements
    175 mm x 175 mm x 4040 mm
  • Note
    From Royal Academy's Aztecs exhibit catalogue entry written by J.Ostapkowicz (2004):

    PROVENANCE: Gabriel Fejéváry collection (1780-1851), Joseph Mayer collection (1855-67), donated to Liverpool Museum in 1867.

    The Codex Fejervary Mayer is a tonalmatl – a ‘book of days and destinies’ which merges time with the course/trajectory of people’s life and fortunes. Its pages depict a series of sophisticated and interconnected calendars – a yearly cycle of 365 days (18 scores of 20 days, + 5 ‘useless’ days) and the ritual calendar – or tonalpohualli – of 260 days (20 named days and 13 numbers). The complex interweave of these calendars with icons such as the 9 Night Lords, 13 deities and 13 quecholli (‘fliers’ or birds) brings together a multivalent ‘reading’ of the text, informing upon a myriad of issues – from human life, labour and behaviour to tribute and economy. The Fejervary Mayer Codex consummately combines the calendars with the tribute system: side 1 deals with commodity items supplied over the year, side 2 deals with people’s labour over the 260-day calendar.

    In the hands of the ritual practitioners and other high-status individuals (such as the pochteca, or merchants), the codex became a source of guidance for people’s actions. The screenfold’s internal reading structure was right to left and was determined by the number-and-sign sets of the calendar: how the images and symbols cross-referenced each other was then interpreted by the reader, who was well versed in the significance of the different icons. Although an object of great reverence, the codex was also a tactile, malleable reference tool: a reader could consult both sides simultaneously by folding parts of the codex onto itself. The reading informed on appropriate days to travel, to celebrate a deity’s beneficence with sacrifices, to plant crops or to name a child.

    Codices were of pivotal importance in the ordering of the Mesoamerican world. Histories, geneologies and tribute economies were recorded in the pages of xiuhtlapoualli (annals) while the tonalamatl informed on appropriate actions– from everyday events to guidance on major ceremonies and wars. As such, codices served both educational and ritual purposes. At the same time, they were objects of great cultural, literary and artistic value. Tlacuilos, or scribes, were specialists in tlacuilolli (‘that which is written and painted’) and were well respected for their abilities in recording the complexities and nuances of Mesoamerican life.

    Although whole libraries were burnt during the time of the Spanish invasion, and only a handful of pre-Cortasian documents survive, the use of the tonalpohualli continues in importance among certain Guatemalan and southern Mexican households.
  • Related people
    Joseph Mayer (Associated Person, collector, previous owner); Mixteca (Artist/maker)


Previous owners

  • Joseph Mayer

    Owned from: Unknown or unrecorded
    How acquired: Unknown or unrecorded
    Owned until: 1867
    Disposal method: Unknown or unrecorded
Object view = Humanities
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