Itzpapalotl (TR18v)

Itzpapalotl (TR18v)

Glyph or Iconographic Image Description: 

The iconographic example of an anthropomorphic figure representing the divine force or deity, Itzapapalotl, is apparently a female warrior in profile, facing toward the viewer's right. The diagnostics include a butterfly (papalotl) head with curling antennae (or proboscis) as a major feature of a headdress. The eye of the butterfly is white with a thick turquoise-blue band around the top. The cheek of the woman wearing the butterfly headdress also has a turquoise mark on it. Her mouth is open, showing upper and lower teeth and a red tongue. Behind the butterfly head is a row of flint knives (itztli). Purple-brown (eagle feathers), white down feathers, and long green (quetzalli) feathers also emerge from the headdress. The feet of the figure in motion, with bent legs, are claws with sharp red and white nails reminiscent of huitztli (thorns) used for blood-letting. There is more to the iconography, but the thrust of the figure is "Obsidian-Butterfly." The positioning of the legs implies movement, perhaps dance.

Description, Credit: 

Stephanie Wood

Added Analysis: 

This earth-mother deity was of special importance to the Chichimecs and was embraced by the Nahuas. (See Joseph Kroger and Patrizia Granziera, Aztec Goddesses and Christian Madonnas (2020), 54. Eloise Quiñones Keber (Codex Telleriano Remensis, 1995, 182) states that the "few surviving written references to Itzpapalotl occur in the context of legends and songs...and a mythical place called Tamoanchan." The Anales de Cuauhtitlan inform us that Itzpapalotl met "an unfortunate end: after being killed by numerous arrows, her body is burned." And, in the Leyenda de los Soles, "she meets her death in connection with two deer hunters," adding that "when her body was burned, different-colored knives shot forth from it." An interesting aspect of the gender of this figure is the way she wears a skirt as well as a loincloth. Quiñones Keber suggests that the latter is meant to heighten her warrior nature.

There was also a Mexica captain who was named Itzpapalotzin (with the reverential suffix). He battled the invading Spaniards, as described in Book 12 of the Florentine Codex. [See: Digital Florentine Codex,]

Added Analysis, Credit: 

Stephanie Wood (relying upon Quiñones Keber)

Gloss Image: 
Date of Manuscript: 

ca. 1550–1563

Creator's Location (and place coverage): 

Mexico City

Semantic Categories: 
Cultural Content, Credit: 

Jeff Haskett-Wood

Shapes and Perspectives: 

butterflies, mariposas, obsidian, obsidians, flint

Glyph or Iconographic Image: 
Relevant Nahuatl Dictionary Word(s): 
Glyph/Icon Name, Spanish Translation: 

La Mariposa Obsidiana

Spanish Translation, Credit: 

Stephanie Wood

Image Source: 

Telleriano-Remensis Codex, folio 18 recto, MS Mexicain 385, Gallica digital collection,

Image Source, Rights: 

The non-commercial reuse of images from the Bibliothèque nationale de France is free as long as the user is in compliance with the legislation in force and provides the citation: “Source / Bibliothèque nationale de France” or “Source / BnF.”

Historical Contextualizing Image: