Degree Granting Department
Helena K. SzÃ©pe, Ph.D.
Ethnographic, Charles V, Indigenous Americans, Performance, Social structure
This study examines the watercolor drawings of indigenous Americans in the Trachtenbuch, a small sixteenth-century manuscript by Christoph Weiditz. The manuscript was titled as a trachtenbuch by the Germanisches National Museum Library when cataloged in 1868, and Theodor Hampe published the first facsimile under this title in 1927. As this title suggests, the manuscript has long been narrowly defined and examined by scholars as a costume book. I argue instead for broadening the reading of the Trachtenbuch from a costume book, a subset of ethnographic documents that identify individuals based solely on systems of dress, to a visual ethnographic collection, which documents individuals in a more holistic fashion; examining them not only through their systems of dress, but also through their customs, actions, and societal roles.
By addressing the Trachtenbuch as a visual ethnographic collection, I argue that Weiditz's manuscript visually frames the indigenous Americans as performers and laborers in their new context in Imperial Spain. The Imperial Spanish court was deeply affected both by the discovery and subsequent invasion of the previously unencountered Americas, and it became a site where the flow of new information from the Americas to Europe could be organized and managed. This study suggests that Charles V's presentation of the American natives as his court performers reflects one strategy for propagandizing his control over the Americas and managing the influx of new information by placing the exotic indigenous Americans in the familiar role of court performer, thus neutralizing their foreignness. Weiditz accompanied the court of Charles V as it traveled throughout most of the Iberian Peninsula and on through the Netherlands during the years 1529-1532, and he had the opportunity to view the indigenous Americans first-hand in a setting governed by the emperor.
Reading the Trachtenbuch as an ethnographic document allows for broader interpretations based on both the dress and action portrayed in these likely eye-witness images. These depictions indicate that Weiditz internalized Charles V's strategy by juxtaposing the indigenous Americans as performers with Europeans of various occupations or roles, thereby visually assigning the role of court performer to the indigenous Americans. However, through imbuing the images of American natives with similar bodily composition, action, and dress to his depictions of laborers, Weiditz enhances the indigenous American role in Imperial Spain from mere curiosity to both performer and laborer.
Scholar Commons Citation
Satterfield, Andrea McKenzie, "The assimilation of the marvelous other: Reading Christoph Weiditz's Trachtenbuch (1529) as an ethnographic document" (2007). Graduate Theses and Dissertations.