Juggler, Trachtenbuch, 1529. Christoph Weiditz.
This hand-painted image of an Aztec juggler was created about 1529, just a few years after the conquest of Tenochtitlan. It is one of first European images known to survive of an Aztec person drawn from life. Christoph Weiditz, the painter of this image, was a German medal-maker who saw the Aztecs perform at the Spanish court of Charles V. He captures the performer lying on his back upon a woven mat, his arms akimbo as he catches a large log with his feet. The bent leg of the performer conveys energy; the calm body and facial expression suggest concentration.
The performer was probably brought to Europe, along with other jugglers, by Hernán Cortés in 1528. When these Aztec jugglers appeared in Spanish court, few people living in Europe had yet to see for themselves a native of the Americas. While the juggler’s presence may have seemed wondrous to spectators, it was at the same time part of a newly developing practice in which native peoples traveled from the Americas to Europe—sometimes as trophies of conquest, sometimes as willing representatives sent by their own communities. It is not known what happened to this troupe of performers; they may have returned to Mexico or spent the rest of their lives in Europe.
Weiditz created this hand-painted image for a manuscript
called the Trachtenbuch (Costume Book), which sets pictures of
Aztecs alongside those of Muslims and other foreigners he encountered
in his travels across Western Europe and his days at the Spanish court.
While never published during Weiditz’s lifetime, and thus seen only
by a privileged few, the Trachtenbuch suggests how images of
indigenous people, along with their actual bodies and accoutrements, were
deemed worthy of European interest and collection.
Hampe, Theodor. 1994 . Authentic Everyday Dress of the Renaissance: All 154 Plates from the “Trachtenbuch.” New York: Dover Publications.
Massing, Jean Michel. 1991. “Early European Images of America: The Ethnographic Approach.” In Circa 1492: Art in the Age of Exploration, Jay Levenson, ed., pp. 515-520. Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art.
Copyright 2005, Dana Leibsohn and Barbara Mundy
Please credit as: Leibsohn, Dana, and Barbara Mundy, Vistas: Visual Culture in Spanish America, 1520-1820.