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German History in Documents and Images
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Portrait of Schinderhannes (left); his Execution (right) (1803)
This engraving consists of a sequence of scenes ending in the execution of “Schinderhannes” or “Hans the Skinner.” First, Schinderhannes is shown as a highwayman, with rifle and sword at the ready (left, A). Next, he appears on the scaffolding of a guillotine, listening as a priest administers last rites (middle, B). Finally, his severed head is presented to throngs of onlookers (right, C, D). He was killed by guillotine, a device that had come to symbolize the French Revolution but was still unknown in German lands at that time. As this engraving suggests, public executions were theatrical events. Political authorities carried out executions but were by no means the sole, or even primary, determinants of their meaning. Rather, it was the common people who imbued these events with folk mysticism and lent meaning to them through interpretation. Wood engraving by an unknown artist, c. 1803.