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October 31, 2012

World Digital Library Adds Florentine Codex

The Florentine Codex, a unique manuscript dating from 1577 preserved in the Medicea Laurenziana Library in Florence, is for the first time available online in digital format, the Library of Congress announced today. The codex, one of the most important sources for the history of pre-Columbian and early post-Columbian Mexico, is among recent additions to the World Digital Library (, the Library of Congress’s flagship international digital collaboration.

Vera Valitutto, Director General of the Laurenziana, stated: "We are pleased to be cooperating with the WDL to present this priceless treasure, which came into the possession of the Medici family sometime in the 1580s, to a worldwide online audience. This will be of great benefit not only to researchers, but to students, teachers, and members of the general public interested in learning more about this fascinating civilization and this important chapter in human history."

Digitization of the codex was undertaken in a partnership among the Library of Congress, the Medicea Laurenziana Library, and the Ministry for Cultural Heritage and Activities of Italy. Financial support was provided by the James Madison Council of the Library of Congress.

The WDL, an unprecedented partnership of more than 160 libraries, museums and archives from 75 countries, makes available online the world’s historic treasures. It now features items in 87 languages and about all 194 United Nations member states.

Inclusion of the Florentine Codex in the WDL is part of a project to unite digital versions of the most important documents relating to the early history of Mexico, which are scattered in libraries and museums throughout the world. So far, nine institutions in five countries – Mexico, the United States, Italy, Spain, and Sweden – have contributed to this effort.

"The WDL is an ideal platform to bring together these early primary-source documents located in disparate locations and in many cases not yet accessible online. Presenting these documents on a single website will open a whole new world to online audiences unfamiliar with this early history," said John Van Oudenaren, WDL director. "We are very grateful to the Medicea Laurenziana Library and to our other partners for working with us to make this happen."

"Historia General de las Cosas de Nueva España" (General History of the Things of New Spain), as the Florentine Codex is formally known, is an encyclopedic work about the people and culture of central Mexico compiled over a period of 30 years by Fray Bernardino de Sahagún (1499–1590), a Franciscan missionary who arrived in Mexico in 1529, eight years after completion of the Spanish conquest by Hernan Cortés.

The text is in Spanish and Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs. Its 12 books, richly illustrated by indigenous artists, cover the Aztec religion and calendar, economic and social life, Aztec history and mythology, the use of plants and animals and the Spanish conquest as seen through the eyes of the native Mexicans.

Representatives of the WDL partner institutions, including the heads of many national libraries, will gather in Washington early in December for the annual WDL Partner Meeting and to participate in the Library's International Summit on the Book, which will take place later that month.

Proposed by Librarian of Congress James H. Billington and launched in 2009, the WDL makes significant primary materials from countries and cultures around the world freely available on Among the rare and unique documents presented on the WDL are Chinese, Persian, and Arabic manuscripts, rare maps and atlases from Europe, early printed works from many countries, early photographic surveys of the Russian, Chinese, and other empires, and historic films and sound recordings. The Florentine Codex can be seen at Information about the Medicea Laurenziana Library can be found at link).

Founded in 1800, the Library of Congress is the nation’s oldest federal cultural institution. The Library seeks to spark imagination and creativity and to further human understanding and wisdom by providing access to knowledge through its magnificent collections, programs, publications and exhibitions. Many of the Library’s rich resources can be accessed through its website at

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PR 12-194
ISSN 0731-3527

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