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Engraving the Savage

The New World and Techniques of Civilization

2008
Author:

Michael Gaudio

Engraving the Savage

How engravings reveal the meaning of “savage” and “civilized”

In this innovative analysis, Michael Gaudio explains how popular engravings of Native American Indians defined the nature of Western civilization by producing an image of its “savage other.” Going beyond the notion of the “savage” as an intellectual and ideological construct, Gaudio examines how the tools, materials, and techniques of copperplate engraving shaped Western responses to indigenous peoples.

Engraving the Savage is a path-breaking and welcome contribution to Renaissance and early modern art history.

Bronwen Wilson, University of British Columbia

In 1585, the British painter and explorer John White created images of Carolina Algonquian Indians. These images were collected and engraved in 1590 by the Flemish publisher and printmaker Theodor de Bry and were reproduced widely, establishing the visual prototype of North American Indians for European and Euro-American readers.

In this innovative analysis, Michael Gaudio explains how popular engravings of Native American Indians defined the nature of Western civilization by producing an image of its “savage other.” Going beyond the notion of the “savage” as an intellectual and ideological construct, Gaudio examines how the tools, materials, and techniques of copperplate engraving shaped Western responses to indigenous peoples. Engraving the Savage demonstrates that the early visual critics of the engravings attempted—without complete success—to open a comfortable space between their own “civil” image-making practices and the “savage” practices of Native Americans—such as tattooing, bodily ornamentation, picture-writing, and idol worship. The real significance of these ethnographic engravings, he contends, lies in the traces they leave of a struggle to create meaning from the image of the American Indian.

The visual culture of engraving and what it shows, Gaudio reasons, is critical to grasping how America was first understood in the European imagination. His interpretations of de Bry’s engravings describe a deeply ambivalent pictorial space in between civil and savage—a space in which these two organizing concepts of Western culture are revealed in their making.

Engraving the Savage

Michael Gaudio is assistant professor of art history at the University of Minnesota.

Engraving the Savage

Engraving the Savage is a path-breaking and welcome contribution to Renaissance and early modern art history.

Bronwen Wilson, University of British Columbia

A welcome addition to both art history and Native American studies shelves.

The Midwest Book Review

Art historians may well stand up and cheer at the voracity with which Michael Gaudio’s Engraving the Savage returns to the visual image and its making as a site to begin interpretation. In short, it is an important contribution to early modern art history and to scholarship of the West’s visual production of the New World, especially in terms of methodology.

Renaissance Quarterly

In Engraving the Savage, Michael Gaudio offers a provocative and sophisticated reading of [Theodore de Bry’s] prints by looking at them, by attending closely to them as objects that, within their very materiality, record the artistic and intellectual processes involved in their own making. In doing so, Gaudio reveals the complex, unresolved, and at times contradictory process of visualizing an ethnography of the New World.

caa.reviews

Gaudio’s work offers new ways to think about some of the most influential engravings in Western Culture.

Indigenous Peoples Issues

Engraving the Savage is neither a quick nor an easy read, but it rewards the reader amply with its originality and imagination.

Art Bulletin

Engraving the Savage makes a strong case for looking more closely at the materiality of the printed images of American Indians. Its attention to the specific features of the intaglio and relief processes suggests that an analysis of the iconography of such images is impoverished without reference to the texture of the engraved mark.

Museum Anthropology Review

Perceptive reflections on the importance of images to the way in which ‘Europeans’ came to their understanding of ‘the Indians.’

Terrae Incognitae

Engraving the Savage offers new and provocative insights on the often-porous border between ‘savagery’ and ‘civilization.’

American Indian Culture and Research Journal