The Aztec Codex Cospi will be analyzed in detail

The Aztec Codex Cospi will be analyzed in detail

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The Codex Cospi it is one of the few "books»Aztecs of the world and is kept in the Library of the University of Bologna. A new research project will analyze in unprecedented detail the painting techniques and tools with which it was made.

There are very few pre-Columbian manuscripts in the world and the Codex Cospi is one of them. These days, this manuscript is being analyzed in the Library of the University of Bologna in collaboration with the Palazzo Poggi Museum (System of University Museums).

Find out the composition of the Codex Cospi colors

Using state-of-the-art non-invasive techniques, researchers will try to find out the composition of the bright colors with which the codex was embellished between the late 15th and early 16th centuries.

The Carisbo Foundation provided the funding (Art and Culture grant) to the Department of History, Cultures and Civilization of the University of Bologna. Thanks to this financing, these analyzes will be carried out using the MOLAB platform.

"We will use fluorescence and hyperspectral imaging techniques to map the distribution of compositional material (both organic and inorganic) on each page of the manuscript," explains Davide Domenici, professor at the University of Bologna and director of the project.

"The level of detail that these techniques are capable of providing is unprecedented and will shed new light on the pictorial and technological practices developed by pre-Columbian artists."

The Nahuano divinatory manuscript ("Aztec"), also known as Codex Cospi, represents a rare example of a pre-Columbian "book".

Very few of these "books" survived the centuries and survived the destructive madness of conquerors and evangelizing missionaries.

For this reason, the Codex Cospi exemplifies an entire heritage of books largely condemned to oblivion.

The manuscript reached Bologna thanks to Sunday of Betanzos, Spanish Dominican friar, who probably brought the Codex to this city on the occasion of his meeting with Pope Clement VII on March 3, 1533.

Since then, this precious book has been kept in Bologna. , initially as part of the Ferdinando Cospi collection. Then, it entered the collection of the Academy of Sciences, and finally reached the University Library, where it found its definitive location.

In 2006 researchers carried out a first non-invasive analysis of the Codex, being a pioneering experiment with regard to pre-Columbian manuscripts.

From that first experience, the researchers involved (Davide Domenici, Antonio Sgamellotti, Costanza Miliani) began to analyze most of the pre-Columbian manuscripts existing around the world that are currently preserved in institutions such as the Museo de América in Madrid, the Museo British in London, the World Museum in Liverpool, the Bodleian Library in Oxford and the Vatican Apostolic Library.

15 years later, advances in technology have made it possible for researchers to use cutting-edge imaging techniques to better understand Aztec writing and drawing skills.

The MOLAB platform

This round of analysis on the Codex Cospi takes advantage of the MOLAB platform developed by, the Italian node of the European Infrastructure for Heritage Science.

This project involves a team of researchers from the Center of Excellence for Scientific Methodologies Applied to Archeology and Art (SMAArt) of the University of Perugia, the Institutes of Chemical Sciences and Technologies of the National Research Council "Giulio Natta" (SCITEC- CNR) and Heritage Sciences (ISPC-CNR) under the joint direction of Laura Carthechini (SCITEC-CNR) and Aldo Romani (SMAArt).

The research team will use a macro-XRF scanner. This tool uses X-rays to examine the elemental composition of the object under investigation.
Once the distribution of the chemical elements is known, it will be possible to identify the pigments that make up these elements.

In this way, the researchers will be able to recover the distribution of orpiment (a mineral pigment with an intense yellow color) by searching for the arsenic that composes it.

The Codex Cospi will also obtain hyperspectral images in the visible range. This method allows the study of how visible light is absorbed, reflected and emitted and through this, researchers can map the use of organic dyes like indigo, which was used together with specific clays in the production of the famous Maya Blue.

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