The oldest surviving book of the Americas, Códice Maya de México, is now on view at the Getty Center.
This exhibition is presented in Spanish and English. Esta exhibición se presenta en español y en inglés.
This is the first Getty exhibition where Spanish text leads and English translation follows, creating an inclusive display that reflects the origins of this rare manuscript.
Page 4 of Códice Maya de México, Maya, circa 1100. Mineral and organic pigments on bark paper prepared with gesso. Biblioteca Nacional de Antropología e Historia, Secretaría de Cultura-INAH-México. All rights reserved.
Created by a single artist, a leading Mayan scholar, this one-of-a-kind document has a fraught history. It is one of four ancient books that were created before the Conquistadors invaded. Found during the 60s preserved in a cave, its miraculous that it survived. The Códice Maya de México was initially denounced as a fake. Yet this highly impressive object took the collaboration of art historians and scientists to authenticate it.
Scientific authentication was performed in 2017 and 2018. With only three other examples to compare it to, it was authenticated through analysis of paper, insect remains and carbon dating. A 2018 a conference presented its findings and resolution thanks to an avalanche of evidence. This is a very complex book, and only 10 pages survive while 10 were lost.
An extremely complicated book, it deals with the movements of Venus over 583+ days. Illustrating four different phases of Venus, and calculating the Venus cycles over 104 years, through this document we see how Maya astronomy was fascinated by the cycles of solar versus planets. Approximately 900 years old, it was made from bark paper and its use of rare pigments such as Maya blue is proof that this was created by an indigenous artist. This book was used and worn out over its 104-year use, and compares to another document 200 years later a Venus almanac.
This is a uniquely surviving object from a time we don’t know all that much about. It has been housed at the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City, Mexico, since 2016. It was a challenge to transport this precious and rare and fragile artifact from Mexico to here, given that sound, light, movement and static could damage it.
From the press release:
Ancient Maya scribes recorded prophecies and astronomical observations on the pages of painted books. Although most were lost to decay or destruction, three pre-Hispanic Maya codices were known to have survived, when, in the 1960s, a fourth book that differed from the others appeared in Mexico under mysterious circumstances.
After fifty years of debate over its authenticity, recent investigations using cutting-edge scientific and art historical analyses determined that Códice Maya de México (formerly known as Grolier Codex) is in fact the oldest surviving book of the Americas, predating all others by at least two hundred years.
Around 900 years ago, a Maya scribe made Códice Maya de México, a sacred book that tracked and predicted the movements of the planet Venus. Today it is the oldest book of the Americas, one of only four surviving Maya manuscripts that predate the arrival of Europeans. A remarkable testament to the complexity of Indigenous astronomy, Códice Maya de México is on display in the US for the first time in 50 years.
Códice Maya de México
On view now through January 15, 2023, at the Getty Center.
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