tlacuiloliztli (TR30r)

tlacuiloliztli (TR30r)

Glyph or Iconographic Image Description: 

This iconographic example (seemingly featuring a compound glyph with two signs, but with no explanatory gloss that would help the viewer understand it) seems to represent the act of writing or painting (tlacuiloliztli). It is found in the Codex Telleriano-Remensis. The piece the woman is creating is a long rectangle with a light brown perimeter. This trim also divides the rectangle in half. It could be a manuscript that is screen-folded. On the left half is a quincunx, a flower-like shape. On the right are two volutes that are reversed, back to back. They are much like the volutes associated with speech scrolls, and they have been interpreted to mean ilhuitl (day, stemming from a near homophone for ilhuia, to say to someone). The volutes have dots around them, which might be interpreted as vibrance (tonalli) and/or the cardinal directions. The designs on both halves are red and white.

Given the museum photo (below) of a very similar (perhaps compound) glyph, circling around a stone several times, suggests a diphrasism--perhaps for writing and painting. Or, it may represent the tonalamatl, and what looks like a flower could be a representation of the sun/day (tonalli), complementing what some scholars (such as Jeanette Peterson, 1993, 47–49) identify as an ilhuitl in the sign of opposing volutes. Much remains to be analyzed, but we are waiting to accumulate further evidence as more glyphs enter the database.

Description, Credit: 

Stephanie Wood

Added Analysis: 

See (below) the glyph for what we also presume to be a tlacuilolli from the Codex Mendoza (folio 70 recto) for comparison with the right-hand symbol on this glyph. And see the glyph for Cuilol from the Matrícula de Huexotzinco (MH) for a symbol much like the one on the left-hand side of this glyph. The MH glyph for the personal name or occupation Tetlacuilo has swirls instead of scrolls.

Elizabeth Hill Boone calls the enclosed scrolls of this record an ideogram for the "tonalamatl or sacred almanac of the days." She equates the symbol with "day," while also admitting that it does not bear a resemblance to a day, but the association is "culturally assigned." She puts this sign on an equal footing with the tonalli signs on folios 7v and 19r of the Codex Mendoza. [See: Stories in Red and Black, 2000, 35.] James Maffie states that the left-hand stone of the Piedras de los Reyes monument "depicts Cipactonal working on what one would think is a tonalamatl, supporting the interpretation of ilhuitl double opposing speech scrolls within a rectangular box as tonalamatl." He also notes how "Mikulska distinguishes the meaning of two opposing speech scrolls from two opposing speech scrolls within a rectangular box." (Personal communication, 1/12/2023.) See the female version of the painter/writer from folio 30 recto of the Telleriano-Remensis. The woman is actively writing or painting on a two-part rectangle. One side has a design similar to this one for the painter. The left side has a shape that appears to be a quincunx (perhaps a sun or a flower), with four symmetrical parts and a center. That shape might also tie into the day sign, suggesting an almanac.

Marc Thouvenot (2010, 184–185) identifies the boxed opposing speech scrolls in the Codex Mendoza as "ilhuia", adding that a subset of things having to do with writing (tlacuilolli) are associated with language (not just mainly images or visual things). But he also identifies the same sign of opposing speech scrolls in the Codex Xolotl as cemilhuitzin. There, it has an added sign which seems to contribute to it being seen as "a day" (in the reverential) which brings us back to the book of the days. But, Cemilhuitzin was also a person (hence the reverential), a "traitorous relative" of Nezahualcoyotl (according to Jerome Offner, 2016, 107), and one of the authors of a text of Chichimec history that relates to the Codex Xolotl, according to José Rabasa (2016, 180), found in studies published in Galen Brokaw and ‎Jongsoo Lee, ed., Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxochitl and His Legacy (2016). However, it is not clear how that personage would be relevant to the understanding of this glyph.

In a personal communication James Maffie adds further: "Mikulska and Whittaker defend the existence of a link between ilhuitl and ilhuia not on the basis of their shared meaning but rather on the basis of the shared sound of the words “ilhuitl” and “ilhuia.” [Note: Mikulska, Tejiendo destinos, 2015, 51.] Gordon Whittaker describes the ilhuitl glyph “with its embedded, interacting speech scrolls for phonetic ilhui (from ilhuia “say [to someone].” [Note: The use of bolding is by Whittaker. See his Deciphering Aztec Hieroglyphs, 2021, 98.]

See below for other glyphs with a clearer connection to tlacuilo, tlacuilolli, and cuilolli, among others, which may offer support for the choice of tlacuilolli for this glyph.

Added Analysis, Credit: 

Stephanie Wood

Gloss Image: 
Gloss Diplomatic Transcription: 

la pintora

Gloss Analysis, Credit: 

Stephanie Wood

Date of Manuscript: 

ca. 1550–1563

Creator's Location (and place coverage): 

Mexico City

Semantic Categories: 
Cultural Content, Credit: 

Stephanie Wood


writing, escritura, escritos, escribanos, tlacuilos, tlacuiloqueh, mujeres, género, tlacuilolli, cuilolli, tlacuilo, ilhuitl, tonalamatl

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

This stone carving of what appears to be a pair of glyphs that refer to writing and painting (but might alternatively refer to the sun and a day, ilhuitl) is located in the Museo de Escultura Mexica at the archaeological site of Santa Cecilia Acatitlan (juris. Tlalnepantla, Mexico City). This visual diphrasism repeats around what was a cuauhxicalli (container for hearts) that was repurposed as a baptismal font, according to the interpretation in the museum. Photo by Stephanie Wood, 13 August 2023.

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

tlacuiloliz(tl), the act of painting or writing,

Image Source: 

Telleriano-Remensis Codex, folio 30 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: