Codex Fejéváry Mayer


About this object

Sacred or 'dream' book (temicamatl) - a condensed or ritualised version of reality which deals with fundamental human experiences. It is made from deer hide folded into 23 pages and covered in gesso and painted with pictograms. It is read right to left, on both sides.

It portrays a "map" of the cosmos, a series of gods, a calendar system known as day counts associated with the maize harvest, and long-distance traders (pochteca). Aside from its literary and artistic merit, it was used for education and to make assessments of the future.

The main focus of the Codex Fejervary Mayer is how and what to give as offerings and gifts known as tribute. Tribute was given in different forms, as goods or material supplied over the year (as shown on side 1 of the Codex), but also as free labour given over the 260-day (and night) gestation period known as the tonalamatl (this is shown on side 2). A great deal of attention is paid to the pochteca - the guild of people who travelled far to explore and collect.

Object specifics

  • Type
  • Culture
  • Artist/Maker
  • Place made
    Americas: Central America: Mexico
  • Date made
    1521 before
  • Materials
    Gesso; Paint; Deer Hide
  • Location
    Item not currently on display
  • Acquisition
    Gift of Joseph Mayer, 1867
  • Collector
    Joseph Mayer
  • Place collected
  • Date collected
    1867 before
  • Measurements
    175 mm x 175 mm x 4040 mm
  • Note
    The Codex Fejéváry-Mayer is one of the most precious and remarkable artefacts to have survived from the time before Hernán Cortés destroyed the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan, in 1521. Before the Spanish invasion, Mesoamerica was known as the land of codices or books. From Mexico to Nicaragua, this type of folded book on deerskin or paper with its characteristic way of writing and its own calendar, was well known. Invading Europeans burned whole libraries of books in huge bonfires, fearing their intellectual power. Today, only a dozen or so screenfold books in the Native tradition are known to have survived and only half of these - like the Codex Fejéváry-Mayer - were made before 1521.
  • Related people
    Joseph Mayer ( Associated Person, collector, previous owner)


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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