In this stimulating follow-up to his recent guest blog on Theodore de Bry, Richard Hakluyt and the Business of Books, Emeritus Professor Jerald T. Milanich continues to explore Richard Hakluyt‘s international network. In the present blog, his focus is on establishing the origin of Theodore de Bry’s 1591 engravings of Florida Timucua Indians, taking his readers on a grand tour of the sixteenth-century world of art, print, and publishing.
In his The Representation of the Overseas World in the De Bry Collection of Voyages (1590-1634),Michiel van Groesen points out that the 1591 Florida volume, among all the volumes, is peculiar for several reasons. First, the text is the only one of the 50 narratives that does not have a version published elsewhere. The narrative instead combines portions of René de Laudonnière’s account, previously published by Richard Hakluyt, with other sources, perhaps including information provided by Jacques le Moyne.
The title pages of both the Latin and German editions mention Le Moyne and Laudonnière while the German edition that was translated from the Latin edition also lists Jean Ribault and Dominque de Gourges as contributors. In 1568 De Gourges had avenged the 1565 Spanish attack on Fort Caroline (the French colony on the St. Johns River) with his own attack on the Spaniards. An account of the raid later was published in English by Hakluyt.
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The 1591 Florida text may also contain information from another of the Fort Caroline colonists, Nicholas Le Challeux. Le Challeux’s Florida account was first published in France in 1566 (later published by De Bry in 1596 in a book with narratives about Peru and the Canary Islands). In reality the 1591 Florida volume, often mistakenly attributed solely to Le Moyne, is a composite of multiple accounts all of which are known from other sources except for Le Moyne’s own contribution, whatever that might have been.
Another peculiar thing about the Florida volume is that De Bry states that in order to publish the text it needed to be translated from English into Latin, not from French into Latin. Did someone other than Le Moyne or de Bry put the text together, somewhat like Hakluyt who had the English versions of Laudonnière, Ribault, and the others?
The Florida volume also is the only one of De Bry’s 27 books for which the engravings cannot be directly correlated with published or extant first-hand images, such as John White’s paintings or Hans Staden’s published drawings of Brazil. Making up images, however, was a common practice of De Bry. Van Groesen has shown that about 45% of the nearly 600 engravings in the 27 volumes were invented in De Bry’s shop. Many others are composite images that draw on multiple sources.
Van Groesen goes on to say that when De Bry invented an image, basing it on written accounts, he often included in the caption a phrase that went something like: “The history recounts that” or “derived from the account.” According to Van Groesen, at least 22 of the 42 Florida engravings were invented by De Bry, who drew their artistic muse from the accounts of Ribault, Laudonnière, possibly Le Moyne, and others.
How about the other engravings in the Florida volume? Did De Bry indeed acquire information, drawings, or paintings from Jacques le Moyne or his widow in London and, if so, were any of the latter as models for the engravings? De Bry states in the introductory remarks to the Florida volume that he did receive drawings from Le Moyne’s widow in 1588 (after Le Moyne had died in May of that year). An earlier attempt to acquire information from Le Moyne in 1587 had not been successful, though De Bry and Le Moyne (and Hakluyt?) may have had conversations about Florida.
What exactly did the art that De Bry received from Le Moyne’s widow in 1588 consist of? We don’t know. Some or all may have been the paintings and drawings Le Moyne did of European plants and animals, nearly a hundred of which are extant in archival collections in London and in New York.
I believe, after studying the 42 Florida engravings, that if Le Moyne supplied De Bry with sketches or drawing or paintings, it was not much. And I am not alone in that hypothesis. Of the 20 Florida engravings not overtly designated by De Bry to have been invented, Van Groesen has shown that 10 contain elements from other images, such as adding backgrounds. I would note that a large number of those 20 also contain elements taken from Staden’s Brazil images, which the De Bry’s later engraved.
De Bry also borrowed from André Thevet who in turn borrowed from Staden and others. In the late 16th and 17th centuries, attributing Brazilian Indian traits to images of North American Indians was a common practice.
Did De Bry have any idea of what the Timucua Indians looked like? I think he did, but I don’t think it came from Jacques le Moyne’s art. I think the images he used to engrave Timucua Indians came from John White.
Perhaps having not gotten what he needed from Le Moyne—who was dead—De Bry or more likely Hakluyt got John White to paint a Timucua man and a woman. I believe that White used his first-hand knowledge of American Indians and the narratives of Jean Ribault (published by Hakluyt) and René de Laudonnière to inform his two portraits of Timucua Indians. For instance, Jean Ribault wrote:
“The most part of them cover their waists and privities with hart [deer] skins painted most commonly with sundry colors; and the forepart of their bodies and armes, be painted with pretty devised works of [blue], red, and black…. The women have their bodies painted with a certain herb like unto moss whereof the cedar trees and all other trees be always covered. [The men are] naked and painted…; their hair … long and trussed up, with a lace made of herbs, to the top of their heads.”
And that is what White painted and what, I believe, found its way into de Bry’s engravings.
It is likely that Le Moyne never painted or drew a single Florida scene, but he may have provided information orally to De Bry and/or Hakluyt or in written notes that De Bry received in 1588 after Le Moyne’s death. Hakluyt may have played a role in combining such information with the accounts of Ribault, Laudonnière, and others to make up the text published in the Florida volume.
There is still work to be done, but what seems certain is that the Florida engravings cannot be accepted at face value as ethnographically accurate. They did, however, sell books and they continue to do so today.
Did you miss part 1 of this blog? Read it here
Jerald T. Milanich is Emeritus Professor at the University of Florida. He is the author of more than twenty books describing the Indian societies of the Americas and their interactions with Europeans during the colonial and post-colonial periods. Presently he divides his time between New York City and the Catskill Mountains.