Previous studies suggest that late postclassic and early colonial Nahua viewers understood specific artistic creations to contain tonalli, a solar-derived animating force. This article advances understanding of the animacy of Nahua featherworks by examining attention to tonalli in the various stages of featherwork production. Analysis of a classificatory distinction used in the sixteenth-century Florentine Codex between tlazohihhuitl (beloved feathers) and macehualihhuitl (commoner feathers) suggests that this distinction registers specific types of feathers’ differential ability to contain tonalli. Ultimately, this classification posited tlazohihhuitl as living beings and macehualihhuitl as inanimate materials. The relationship between these two classes of feathers is integral to Nahuatl descriptions of the treatment of specific feather types in the production stages of bird hunting, dyeing and selling feathers, and mosaic construction. Understanding these production practices through Nahuatl descriptions suggests that care for tonalli represented a central commercial and artistic concern in featherwork production.

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