Karl Anton Nowotny

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Karl Anton Nowotny (June 21, 1904, Hollabrunn – December 31, 1978, Vienna)[1] was an Austrian ethnographer, art historian and academic, specialising in the study of Mesoamerican cultures. He is most renowned for his analyses and reproductions of Mesoamerican codices, and his commentaries on their iconography and symbolisms.

Nowotny was a pioneer and leading exponent of applying comparative ethnography to the study of pre-Columbian and conques-era texts and codices.[2] In this technique, the meaning and symbolism of the texts are analysed and compared with the cultural practices and beliefs of modern indigenous Mesoamerican peoples whose traditions have been maintained. Nowotny used comprehensive ethnographic studies—such as those conducted by Leonhard Schultze in the 1930s among the Nahuas of the central Mexican altiplano—as a means of garnering further insight into the ancestral practices and beliefs underpinning the codices and related iconographies.[3]

Nowotny also contributed extensively to the study and interpretation of pre-Columbian Mesoamerican calendars, their functioning and how they were used. Building upon work by earlier scholars such as Eduard Seler, Nowotny and his contemporaries like Alfonso Caso and Paul Kirchhoff greatly added to the scholarly understanding of calendrical elements such as the central Mexican tonalpohualli, veintena and trecena cycles.[4] Nowotny's analysis and exposition[5] of the ritual and divinatory importance of the tonalamatl almanac has been regarded as of "critical importance" to the modern understanding of this almanac, and a significant development beyond the primarily astronomically based approach of Seler and other predecessors.[6]


  1. ^ Date information sourced from Library of Congress Authorities data, via corresponding WorldCat Identities linked authority file (LAF) .
  2. ^ Boone 2007, p.87
  3. ^ Boone 2007, pp.87,161
  4. ^ Quiñones Keber 1995, pp.135,155–156
  5. ^ Such as in Nowotny's Tlacuilolli, first published in 1961. See also the first English-language translation of this work, published in 2005 by University of Oklahoma Press (Nowotny 2005).
  6. ^ Quiñones Keber 1995, p.156


Boone, Elizabeth Hill (2007). Cycles of Time and Meaning in the Mexican Books of Fate. Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long series in Latin American and Latino art and culture. Austin: University of Texas Press. ISBN 978-0-292-71263-8. OCLC 71632174. 
Brotherston, Gordon (1999). "The yearly seasons and skies in the Borgia and related codices" (eJournal online text). Arara: Art and Architecture of the Americas. Colchester, UK: University of Essex. 2. ISSN 1465-5047. OCLC 163473451. 
Nowotny, Karl Anton (2005). Tlacuilolli: style and contents of the Mexican pictorial manuscripts with a catalog of the Borgia Group. George A. Everett, Jr. and Edward B. Sisson (trans. and eds.), with a foreword by Ferdinand Anders (First English ed.). Norman: University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 0-8061-3653-7. OCLC 56527102. 
Quiñones Keber, Eloise (1995). Codex Telleriano-Remensis: Ritual, Divination, and History in a Pictorial Aztec Manuscript. Michel Besson (illus.). Austin: University of Texas Press. ISBN 0-292-76901-6. OCLC 29600936. 

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