Three Indigenous Manuscripts Containing Cochineal

Huexotzinco Codex, 1531, Library of Congress

The Huexotzinco codex is an account of the Indigenous peoples’ testimony in the legal case brought by Cortés against Mexican officials in 1531. Cortés claimed that the Huexotzinco land was stolen from him.  He argued that because the indigenous people had sided with him during the Spanish conquest of the Aztec empire, ten years prior, he was the rightful owner of the land. The counter argument was that Cortés demanded unlawful tributes and taxes from the indigenous peoples.  Cortés claimed he did not receive the full tributes. The manuscript images depict the delivery of the tributes. It was eventually ruled in 1538 by King Charles V of Spain that two thirds of the tributes be returned. 

This manuscript is a thoroughly Indigenous manuscript as it has the least amount of European influence of the three codices. The slight European influence includes a banner with images of Mary and Christ as well as some written Spanish.

The story of this legal battle is told through pictographs. Evidence of bright red carmine is found in the image of Mary and indicatees her importance and also demonstrates European religious influence in the Americas.

It has been argued that the importance of this codex is demonstrated by the extensive use of carmine.  In addition, it was also likely used because carmine was probably cultivated on the contested land and this codex was important enough to warrant the use of the prized pigment. Cortés sought out this land for control over the Huexotzinco peoples and their resources, including control over cochineal cultivation. 

Oztoticpac Lands Map, 1540, Library of Congress

The Oztoticpac Lands Map “…concerns the litigation of the estate of the Texcoco lords after one of their members, Don Carlos Ometochtli, was executed for idolatry…The map depicts the Palace of Oztoticpac, land plots of villagers, and an orchard of hybrid Mexican and European fruit trees.” (Library of Congress)

The map appears to be almost monochromatic.  Upon closer examination, however, faint red lines denote land borders and there are traces of red in some of the fruit trees. This suggests that the cochineal, a fugitive pigment, has faded due to light exposure. Because it is a map, it likely would have remained open or be frequently consulted unlike the previous codex. This map highlights the increased European influence due to the fruit trees of European origin as well as alphabetized writing.

Codex Quetzalecatin, 1593, Library of Congress

The Quetzalecatin codex is a rare indigenous map illustrating the family genealogy of Lord-11 Quetzalecatin, a strong political leader in Mexico during the 15th century. 

Cochineal is used most extensively in the garments of the royal family. Such a liberal use of carmine pigment is unusual but here signifies the importance of the family members and  references the cochineal cultivation on the de Leon estate. The pigment was also symbolic of blood and life in Mesoamerican culture so its use in this codex is representative of its symbol importance. 

Although depictive of Mesoamerican society, the codex is also a Spanish colonial artifact because of the evident European influence such as alphabetic writing and the presence of Christian Churches.