Aztec Priests Sacrificing to the Gods by Burning Incense and Offering Blood


The Tovar Codex, attributed to the 16th-century Mexican Jesuit Juan de Tovar, contains detailed information about the rites and ceremonies of the Aztecs (also known as Mexica). The codex is illustrated with 51 full-page paintings in watercolor. Strongly influenced by pre-contact pictographic manuscripts, the paintings are of exceptional artistic quality. The manuscript is divided into three sections. The first section is a history of the travels of the Aztecs prior to the arrival of the Spanish. The second section, an illustrated history of the Aztecs, forms the main body of the manuscript. The third section contains the Tovar calendar. This illustration, from the second section, shows two priests whose bodies are colored blue making offerings to the gods. One holds an incense burner and a bag while the other pierces himself with a cactus spine. In the center is a braided vessel with three cactus spines covered in blood that will be offered to the gods. The priests, called tlamacazqui (keepers of the gods), recognizable by their long hair held back by three rings, burn copal (or copalli, a dried resin made from various trees) and offer blood to the gods by mutilating themselves with cactus spines.

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Title in Original Language

Sacerdotes de los idolos, y como de noche offrescian sacrifficio, quemando encienso y atravesandose las pantorrillas

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Physical Description

Watercolor on paper ; 21 x 15.2 centimeters


  • Illustration from recto leaf 126

Last updated: October 26, 2012