The Codex Azcatitlan tells the history of the Mexica beginning with their migration out of Aztlan, and ending soon after the Spanish conquest, around 1524, although it is presumed to have been created in the late 16th or the 17th century.[i] The Azcatitlan relies heavily on figurative representations, presenting human figures among large, architectural year-signs and even larger place signs, seen on fol 9b. The codex’s organization and style are in many ways Europeanized, with continuous images on each pair of facing folios, and European style perspective on temples and some figures.[ii] The complex and distinguished landscapes in the codex may also be related to its European style.
Because of this focus on figures and landscape, the Azcatitlan is more place and event oriented than year oriented, unlike the Aubin. With pages that break from the year-count to show pictorial descriptions of place and migration, the Azcatitlan often using the footprint pattern to show travel, and have relatively unadorned year-glyphs compared to the Aubin, in which the glyphs are often the most elaborate aspects of the pages. Fol 10 focuses on pictorial description of place and migration, with small, nondescript year signs in the upper corner. The rich pictorial description also includes animals, plants, and mountains, seen, for example, in the renderings of palm trees, cacti, and grasses on folio 4a.
The focus on figurative representation is also clear in the major points in Aztec history, such as the founding of Tenochtitlan, seen on fols. 4a and b. The recognizable iconography of the nopal cactus makes clear the location, but the page also contains footprints leading up to the location, including figures of migrants, and pictorial description of the landscape, such as the river seen in the bottom right corner.
The Spanish conquest begins with a confrontation featuring the Spanish on 44a, the companion page of which has been lost and would presumeably show the Aztecs. There is a strong interest in figurative representation, as many members of the Spanish army are depicted in full armor, led by an individuated Hernan Cortes (identifiable by his visible face, beard, and clothes) and followed by indigenous slaves.The use of symbols is also present, on the red banner carried by the Spaniards.
[i] R.H. Barlow, Codex Azcatitlan, (Paris : Bibliotheque nationale de France : Société des Américanistes, 1995), 31.
[ii] CIbid, 37.