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What’s painted red on the face of Tenoch in the Codex Mendoza?

ORIGINAL QUESTION received from - and thanks to - M.A. Cardenas: The first page of the Codex Mendoza shows Tenoch with something red on his face. Also, folio 63 shows - on other peoples’s faces - the same red paint on their faces. Is it blood, feathers, or...? (Answered by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

Tenoch, founder of Tenochtitlan, the Mexica (Aztec) capital. Codex Mendoza fol. 2 (detail)
Tenoch, founder of Tenochtitlan, the Mexica (Aztec) capital. Codex Mendoza fol. 2 (detail) (Click on image to enlarge)

It’s blood! It’s one of the ‘diagnostic’ elements, as Berdan and Rieff Anawalt describe it, that tell us that the individual is a (high) priest - in Nahuatl a tlamacazqui. Interestingly, he is the only one of the group of ten founders of Tenochtitlan to sport not only the red element on his face but also black body paint and loosely tied-back hair; he’s also shown larger than any of the others, clearly indicating he’s the leader of the group (the others have their hair arranged in the distinguished warrior hairstyle). What’s more, he’s the only one depicted with a speech glyph - further confirmation of his role as leader, and the Mexica people’s first tlatoani or Speaker (ruler).

Three Mexica high priests preparing for nightly rituals; Codex Mendoza fol. 63r (detail)
Three Mexica high priests preparing for nightly rituals; Codex Mendoza fol. 63r (detail) (Click on image to enlarge)

The red smear of blood always appears - in the Codex Mendoza - on the person’s temple, in front of the ear. And yes, you can see exactly the same thing shown on the faces of the high priests on other pages of the Codex Mendoza, including folio 63 that you mention (pic 2), where three Aztec high priests perform nightly incensing duties in the élite (and harsh) priests’ school or calmecac. Notice, incidentally, that the young novice priest (pic 2, extreme left) has no blood smeared on his face, nor the characteristic priests’ hairstyle.

Images from the Codex Mendoza scanned from our own copy of the James Cooper Clark facsimile edition, London, Waterlow, 1938.
Reference: The Essential Codex Mendoza by Frances F. Berdan and Patricia Rieff Anawalt, University of California Press, London, 1997.

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