I’m honored to present a guest post by Rosalina Cantú Guzmán, an artist, writer, poet and philosopher. Rosalina’s poems are beautiful and her paintings are inspiring.

Rosalina seeks “…to learn, to share and to understand…” “…Through my writing,” she says. “I share my questions about life, through my poems I get to touch the soul and the universe around us and through my art I go beyond thoughts, ideas, colors and lines…”

Originally coming from Mexico-city, Rosalina loves to learn about history of her homeland as much as she can, and most kindly she agreed to share some of her knowledge. I hope you’ll enjoy her article concerning the role of Tlahcuilo, the Scribe and the Artist in the Aztec’ society.

Tlahcuilo – the one who writes paintings

Tlahcuilo is a word derived from Nahuatl.

Tlacuihcuilō or tlahcuilō means ‘the one who works in stone or wood’, and who later came to refer to what we now call – scribe, painter, writer or scholar.

The tlahcuilos were Aztec men and women who excelled in drawing, who were trained with the knowledge of their language and culture from childhood. The work of tlahcuilo is associated with different activities, not only the pictograph. The tlahcuilos painted murals and codices in Mesoamerica. He knew the various forms of representation and mythology. He or she could work in markets and temples, depending on the type of activity that they needed to perform.

The codices were elaborated on bark paper called amatl. In Spanish it is called paper amate. It is a form of paper that is made by boiling the inner bark of several species of trees, particularly fig trees (genus Fics). The resulted fibrous material then is pounded with a stone to produce a stretchy and somewhat delicate paper that’s very characteristic being light brown with corrugated lines. The amate paper is still in use in Mexico in artisan paintings.

Tlahcuilos would also use deerskin, or cotton cloth woven like a belt, and black and red ink for paintings and glyphs; and in some cases, maguey paper. To make the colors they would use vegetables, insects, shells, and minerals to create colors, then oil could be added to make colors brighter. The codices were kept, folded by way of screens, or homes in amoxcallis codices. The tlahcuilos were under the protection of the goddess Xochiquétzal.

The next poem will help to explain the importance of the tlahcuilo and their connection with the gods. This poem is of the Dual God Ometeotl where its depicted as a divine artist who sings and paints human life into existence in his/her divine book. The world is created by the flowers and songs (In Xochitl In Cuicatl) of the gods.

The Tlacuilo With flowers You write, O Giver of life; With songs You give color With songs You shade; Those who live here on the Earth; Later you will erase eagles and jaguars, We live only in your book of paintings, Here, on the Earth.

So the humans create their own flowers and songs, imitating the divine and communicating with the gods. And the tlahcuilo, the human painter, was the artist closest to the god.

They were trained in priestly schools. To be a true painter, a person had to develop an inward sense of feeling and understanding about the nature and intention of the god. This was called conversing with one’s heart, which resulted in the painter’s becoming a yolteotl, or heart rooted in the divine. So the person who had taken the god into his heart was then honored to transfer the images and purpose of the divine realty into paintings, codices, and murals so important for the Aztecs.

This Nahuatl poem found in the Codex Matritense, depicts what a good painter should be:

In tlahcuilo In tlahcuilo: tlilli tlapalli, tlilatl yalvil toltecatl, tlachichiuhqui… In qualli tlahcuilo: mihmati, yolteutl, tlayolteuiani, moyolnonotzani. Tlatlapalpoani, tlatlapalaquiani, tlacevallotiani, tlacxitiani, tlaxayacatiani, tlatzontiani. Xochitlahcuiloa, tlaxochiicuiloa toltecati.

The good painter is a Toltec, an artist; He creates with black and white ink, He prepares the black, he grounds it and apply it, Creator of things in black water; The good painter, understanding, has god in his heart He brings divinity to things with his heart, He communicates with his own heart He knows the colors, he applies, he shades; He draws the feet, the faces; He draws the shades, achieving perfection; He applies color to everything; He paints the colors of all the flowers; As if he was a Toltec.

A note worth mentioning is that they always refer to the Toltecs as perfection, because they believed the Toltecs were descendants of the gods. To be an artist, a Tlahcuilo, you had to be born to be one, you had to have the intuitive skills. Nevertheless, to become Tlahcuilo you had to undergo an extensive training in the local calmecac.

Generally this profession was passed from father to son. The Tlahcuilos were highly regarded in the Aztec society. Their work was intentionally cryptic, only the priest and nobles could interpret them. They weren’t interested in drawing nature as it is observed; the tlahcuilo’s work was a conceptual art. They didn’t sign the codexes or their works; their works belonged to society. And their work still remains with us in murals and codexes, where their unique union and understanding with the gods made them messengers of the flowers and songs of the Aztec society.