1. SLUB Dresden
  2. Explore
  3. Manuscripts
  4. The Dresden Maya Codex
  5. Provenance / Acquisition

Provenance / Acquisition

In 1739 the electoral Saxon court chaplain and chief inspector of the library Johann Christian Götze (1692-1749) acquired the codex according to his information "as an unknown thing even slightly for free" from an unspecified "private person" in Vienna (Die Merckwürdigkeiten Der Königlichen Bibliotheck zu Dreßden, ausführlich beschrieben, und mit Anmerckungen erläutert, 1. coll., Dresden 1743, p. 4). There it arrived, as Götze already assumed, probably via Spain, which had belonged to the Habsburg Empire since the beginning of the 16th century. 

Perhaps the codex was among the Aztec folded books sent by the conqueror of Mexico, Hernán Cortés (1485-1547) to Charles V of Spain in July 1519, with numerous Indian jewels. Cortés may have taken the codex with him from the island of Cozumel off Yucatán, where he landed in February 1519 and where the main sanctuary of the goddess Ix Chel was located. 

Ernst Wilhelm Förstemann conjectured that the codex might be identical with a painted hieroglyphic folding book bound in jaguar fur, which Francisco de los Cobos y Molina (d. 1547), the secretary of state and treasurer of Emperor Charles V in Spain, gave to the physician and historian Paolo Giovio (1483-1552) in Naples in 1535 or more likely in Bologna in 1533, after he, Cobos, had possibly received it from Pope Clement VII. Like many humanists of his time, Giovio was interested in non-European cultures and, in addition to painted portraits of famous personalities, collected artifacts from Central America, which he exhibited in his palace in his native Como. 

According to a still unpublished hypothesis of the Maya researcher John F. Chuchiak (Bonn / Missouri State University), presented at a conference in Dresden in 2012, the codex could have been in the collection of Archduke Ferdinand II. (1529-1595) at Ambras Castle near Innsbruck and from there it could have reached Vienna.

In 1740, the codex is mentioned as an "invaluable Mexican Book with Hieroglyphic Figures" at the last place on a transfer list of all manuscripts and books that Götze had acquired for the Electoral Library on his first acqusition voyage to Austria and Italy.

In 1743, Götze described the codex in more detail as a "Mexican book, described with unknown characters and hieroglyphic figures on both pages, and painted in all kinds of colours, in oblong octave, neatly folded or with 39 leaves folded together and carrying more than six cubits lengthwise" (Die Merckwürdigkeiten Der Königlichen Bibliotheck zu Dreßden, ausführlich beschrieben, und mit Anmerckungen erläutert, 1. coll.., Dresden 1743, p. 1).

At the end of his remarks Götze writes that the Orientalist Giuseppe Simone Assemani (1687-1768), who was appointed First Custodian of the Vatican Library in 1739, had "seen our copy four years ago in Rome" (loc. cit., p. 5), which is probably to be understood that Götze presented his new acquisition to him as an expert on the Mexican manuscripts there.

In 1755, the librarian Karl August Scheureck listed the codex in the first manuscript catalogue of the Electoral Library as number 162 of the oriental manuscripts in quarto.

In 1782 Karl Wilhlem Dassdorf, then employed as Third Librarian in the Electoral Library in Dresden, made the codex known to a wider public in his "Description of the most excellent curiosities of the Electoral Residence City of Dresden and some surrounding areas" (vol. 1, Dresden 1782, p. 311-313)