Johann Froschauer

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New World Scene is a woodcut created in 1505 by Johann Froschauer, a German artist based in Augsburg, Germany. This piece is Froschauer’s most celebrated work, a key example of early European representations of the New World, considered one of the closest images in ethnographic accuracy of Native Americans of his time.
The scene depicts a group of Native Americans on a coast. The figures, adorned with headdresses and feather skirts, exhibit a vibrant daily life. A mother breastfeeding her baby, men conversing and holding bows, and figures engaging in an act of cannibalism, make up the representation. In the background, two large ships approach, seemingly unnoticed by the natives.
This selection of Froschauer’s work contains his images related to the discovery, exploration and conquest of the New World.
Johann Froschauer, who died in 1523, was an influential engraver of his day. Working mainly in Augsburg, he contributed to the advancement of printing techniques and trained others in the art of woodcut.
New World Scene is inspired by the descriptions of Amerigo Vespucci in his book “Mundus Novum”. Vespucci’s depictions of the natives, though sometimes inaccurate, made a strong impression on artists such as Froschauer, leading them to create images based on his words.
Johann Froschauer’s woodcut is considered the first to depict Native American tribes as cannibals. Although not all elements accurately represent the native Tupinamba, the scene reflects the impact of Vespucci’s words on European art.
The German text at the bottom of New World Scene offers a narrative description of Native American tribes, reflecting the artist’s thoughts and Vespucci’s reports.
“Mundus Novum” was widely distributed in Europe, shaping the European vision of the Americas. Johann Froschauer’s work captures this fascination and prejudice, showing both the beauty and controversial elements of native life.
The inaccuracies and negative portrayal of natives in Vespucci’s work, as “savages” and “cannibals,” laid the groundwork for colonization and Christianization efforts. The tradition of cannibalism, although not common in all tribes, was an important motive behind the European mission to convert the natives.
New World Scene is a first portrait of the New World from the European perspective. Its inaccuracies and the way it reflects the prejudices of its time, make this work a valuable historical and artistic testimony. Johann Froschauer’s piece is a reminder of how art and literature can influence our perception and understanding of unknown cultures, and how this interpretation can have lasting repercussions.

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