tlacuilo (Mdz70r)

tlacuilo (Mdz70r)

Glyph or Iconographic Image Description: 

This example of iconography is included here to show a tlacuilo at work, making a painting or a piece of writing (tlacuilolli). The position of painter/writer was typically held by a man, such as we see here, sitting on a woven seat and wearing a cape tied at his shoulder. In his right hand he holds a stylus, and in his left he holds a red square with back to back volutes.

Description, Credit: 

Stephanie Wood

Added Analysis: 

Some scholars interpret the piece of writing or painting as representing the divinatory calendar, tonalpohualli, or a given day (ilhuitl) in the calendar. The back to back swirls or curls on the page are reminiscent of speech scrolls (and ilhuia, a near homophone to ilhuitl, means to speak) like the one coming out of his mouth (and see below). The relationship between writing and speaking is significant. Pieces of writing were often read aloud, and paintings were interpreted aloud, for those who could not read or write.

This same symbol of red opposing speech scrolls appears again in the Codex Mendoza on folio 57 recto as the insignia for the tlacuiloque. Laura Filloy Nadal and María Olvido Moreno Guzmán, in their essay in Mesoamerican Manuscripts (2018, p. XVI) explain that the four insignia refer to "carpenters (cuahxinque), featherworkers (amanteca), painters tlacuiloque), and goldsmiths (teocuitlahuaque)." The sign being held here in the tlacuilo's left hand may well be polysemous, standing for writing and painting as well as a given day (ilhuitl) in the tonalpohualli, which was a prominent and sacred book.

Added Analysis, Credit: 

Stephanie Wood

Gloss Image: 
Gloss Diplomatic Transcription: 


Gloss Normalization: 

pintor, woven mats, petates, esteras, blandos de espadañas, asientos, taburete de cestería

Gloss Analysis, Credit: 

Stephanie Wood

Source Manuscript: 
Date of Manuscript: 

c. 1541, or by 1553 at the latest

Creator's Location (and place coverage): 

Mexico City

Shapes and Perspectives: 

writing, escritura, painter, writer, tlacuilo, escriba, escribir, asiento, taburete de cestería, petate, estera, blandos de espadañas, ilhuitl, tlalamatl, días, calendarios

Museum & Rare Book Comparisons: 
Museum/Rare Book Notes: 

This stone carving of what we are presuming to represent tlacuilolli (writing/painting)--perhaps about a day (ilhuitl) in the divinatory calendar (tonalamatl--is taken from a visual diphrasis that includes a flower to the left (but not reproduced here in this detail). This portion very clearly provides a comparison with the hieroglyph for the object that the "pintor" (painter, writer) is creating in the Codex Mendoza on folio 70 recto. What we see appear to be two speech scrolls back to back and four dots that add shimmer or vibrance, perhaps. Photo by Rebecca Horn, 13 August 2023, in the Museo de Escultura Mexica of the archaeological site at Santa Cecelia Acatitlan in the region of Tlalnepantla, Mexico City.

Glyph or Iconographic Image: 
Relevant Nahuatl Dictionary Word(s): 

tlacuilo, a writer or painter,
tlacuilol(li), a piece of writing, a painting, or a design,

Image Source: 

Codex Mendoza, folio 70 recto,, image 150 of 188.

Image Source, Rights: 

Original manuscript is held by the Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford, MS. Arch. Selden. A. 1; used here with the UK Creative Commons, “Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 License” (CC-BY-NC-SA 3.0)