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Box inscription of the Codex Laud in the Bodleian LIbrary Oxford

‘Codex Corner’: mistaken identity

At least two ancient Mexican codices* (more correctly, screenfolds) have suffered from mistaken identity after arriving on the European continent. The Codex Cospi was originally catalogued as being from China (follow link below), whilst the Codex Laud (recently renamed Códice Mictlan) was first thought to be from ancient Egypt... (Written by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

The leather case in which the Codex Laud is stored in the Bodleian Library
The leather case in which the Codex Laud is stored in the Bodleian Library (Click on image to enlarge)

The Codex Laud is one of the least studied of the precious few Mexican screenfold books dating back to before or shortly after the Spanish Conquest. It is preserved in the Bodleian Library, Oxford. One of the ‘Borgia Group’ of codices, scholars are still uncertain to this day of its place of origin, though there seems to be a consensus that its style is ‘Mixteca-Puebla’ and that as such it comes from Central Mexico. Ironically, whoever handled the codex after its arrival in Oxford in 1636 as a gift from William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury, made a wild guess that the book was of Egyptian origin, and inscribed the Italian-style gilded leather box in which it was kept Liber Hieroglyphicorum Aegyptarum MS** (Egyptian hieroglyphic manuscript). Until recently the storage case had never been photographed: the photos on this page were commissioned specially by Mexicolore, and for this we are sincerely grateful for the generous assistance of Dr. Bruce Barker-Benfield, Senior Librarian in the Department of Special Collections and Western Manuscripts of the Bodleian Library.

To the naked eye the inscription is now faded and hard to read...
To the naked eye the inscription is now faded and hard to read... (Click on image to enlarge)

The 3-sided box itself is very small, and the inscription is written at the top of the box’s spine (see main picture). Dr. Barker-Benfield believes the inscription could have been the work of Laud’s secretary, William Dell. If the codex itself is only rarely exhibited in public, the box never is! Oddly, the inscription on the box differs in style from the one on the front of the manuscript itself (see picture below). Perhaps Dell used a more ‘domestic’ style to inscribe the box, compared with the more ‘formal’ and standardized inscription on the codex cover. Dr. Barker-Benfield believes the screenfold may actually have been donated to the Library in 1634, and that Laud would have acquired it earlier than this. By comparison the Codex Bodley was given to the institution in 1604, and was rightly catalogued as a ‘book of Mexican pictures’. One of many different theories as to how it reached England is that it was a gift made to the Prince of Wales on a visit he made to Spain in 1623.

The inscription on the front cover of the manuscript itself; ADEVA facsimile edition
The inscription on the front cover of the manuscript itself; ADEVA facsimile edition (Click on image to enlarge)

*Strictly ‘codex’ is the Latin term for a bound, traditional-style book. Pre-Hispanic Mesoamerican manuscripts are best described as ‘screenfolds’
**The actual physical positioning of the inscription on the box is:-
Liber Hierogly
phicorum.
AEgyptiorum.
M. S.


Photos © and courtesy of the Bodleian Library, Oxford
Scan of the front cover of our own copy of the ADEVA facsimile edition of the Codex Laud, Graz, Austria, 1966.

This article was uploaded to the Mexicolore website on Oct 10th 2016

The Codex Cospi

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