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Material / Conservation / Presentation

The Dresden Maya manuscript consists of 35 double-sided and 4 single-sided written and painted leaves. The individual leaves measuring 20.5 x 9 cm originally formed a strip folded as a leporello with a total length of 3.56 m. 

The writing material of the manuscript is amate (in Maya language ju'un "book"), a material felted from bark fibers of the fig tree (ficus) by soaking and beating, which was already used in the classical period of Maya culture. 

After priming with chalk (calcium carbonate) and folding, the pages were written on with a soot ink, drawings were made and painted with colours from a mixture of Indigo with the mineral Palygorskite (so-called Mayan blue) and from the mineral Hematite (red tones).

Quills and hair brushes were used as writing and painting tools. Originally, the codex was probably provided with protective wooden covers covered with jaguar fur.

The original order of the leaves may have been changed as early as 1786, when the brittle connecting membranes had to be replaced by gold-beater membranes made from cattle intestine. 

Initially, the codex acquired in 1739 was only shown to selected visitors, at that time still in its original leporello form. As can be seen from the first manuscript catalogue of the Electoral Library from 1755, the manuscript, which was kept under number 162 of the Oriental manuscripts in octave format, was at that time kept in a capsule ("in capsula").

In order to protect the manuscript from damage due to increasing use, the Dresden chief librarian Constantin Karl Falkenstein decided in 1835 to divide the manuscript into two parts of 182.5 cm and 174.3 cm in length respectively, to place it between two glass panes (s. Falkenstein's "Beschreibung der Königlichen Öffentlichen Bibliothek zu Dresden", Dresden 1839, p. 281-285) and to present it to a wider public in a so-called cimelia room together with other treasures (cimelia) from the Royal Public Library, which was then housed in the Japanese Palace on the banks of the Elbe.

By 1935 at the latest, the two glazed parts were hung separately in two free-standing display cases in the newly established Book Museum on the ground floor of the Japanese Palace, so that they could be viewed from both sides.

In 1939 the codex was evacuated into a bank safe at Schirgiswalde near Bautzen. Shortly before the first bombing raid on Dresden on February 13, 1945, it was moved, along with many other valuable manuscripts, to a supposedly secure deep cellar of the Japanese Palais to keep it safe from the approaching Red Army. 

When the building was destroyed, however, water seeped into the cellar and into the steel cupboards containing the treasures. Although the steel container in which the Mayan manuscript was stored did not keep watertight either, thanks to the glazing, only the peripheral areas were damaged. When the glass panes were opened for drying and conservation, however, the brittle chalk layer stuck to the glass in places. In addition, 3 sheets were inserted erroneously rotated by 180° (p. 6, 7, 8 and p. 38, 39, 40 respectively) when closing the panes again.

In 1952 the codex could be exhibited again in the Book Museum of the interim library building Marienallee (lying in a showcase equipped with mirrors).

Today the Dresden Codex is the centre of the treasure room of the Book Museum of the SLUB. It continues to be exhibited under optimal climatic and lighting conditions in an armoured glass display case equipped with mirrors, lying in two parts between glass panes.

Deckert, Helmut; Anders, FerdinandCodex Dresdensis, Sächsische Landesbibliothek Dresden (Mscr. Dresd. R 310). Vollständige Faksimile-Ausgabe des Codex im Originalformat, Kommentar, Graz 1975 (Codices Selecti, Bd. 54).

Reinhart, Christa ; Mayer, Manfred ; Banik, Gerhard: Der Codex Dresdensis : Aufbewahrungssituation, Lichtverhältnisse, Luftqualität und Klimadaten. - Fellbach : Staatliche Akademie der Bildenden Künste, 1999. 

Reinhart, Christa: Konservatorische Maßnahmen zur Sicherung des Codex Dresdensis : Diplomarbeit. - Stuttgart : Staatliche Akademie der Bildenden Künste, 2000. 

Bittinger, Christa ; Trautmann, Antje ; Mayer, Manfred ;  Banik, Gerhard: Codex Dresdensis : Zustandsbeschreibung, Aufbewahrungs- und Ausstellungsbedingungen, Transportkonzeption. In: PapierRestaurierung : Mitteilungen der IADA, Vol. 2 (2001) Suppl., S. 15-20. Online (PDF)

Buti, D. u. a.: Non-invasive investigation of a pre-Hispanic Maya screenfold book: the Madrid Codex. In: Journal of Archaeological Science 42 (2014), S. 166-178.  Online (PDF)