Occidentalis Americae partis by Theodore de Bry
Series : World maps on leather |
Year : 2011
Unique ID : pe.0002.28
Authors : Pyro Skin A.I.
Frame design : italian redwood frame
Size : 1000 mm x 800 mm
Area shown : World map
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A fine example of this classic map of the Caribbean and Southeast, based on Le Moyne and others sources, and accompanying the account of Girolamo Benzoni in America.
The following summaries of Benzoni and de Bry are from Michael Alexander, Discovering the New World.
In 1541, at the age of twenty-two, Girolamo Benzoni set out from his birthplace, Milan, to seek adventure and fortune in the New World. He was to spend fifteen years in the territories conquered and being exploited by the Spaniards, travelling widely through the South American continent - the Caribbean, Venezuela, Guatemala, Mexico, Peru, Panama and Nicaragua. He had a good ear for gossip and a good eye for local colour. Exactly what he was doing in the New World is not clear: he attached himself to various military expeditions though he was not by nature a fighting man; he reveals a good knowledge of political intrigue but does not apparently become involved in politics; he is informed about economics but does not discuss the commodities he traded in. Was he perhaps a spy? Whatever his purpose he failed to make a fortune, for we learn that the 'few thousand ducats' he had accumulated was partially lost in a shipwreck on his way home.
An Italian in a Spanish arena, Benzoni maintained an individualistic outlook and though occasionally befriended by influential people seems to have been treated as an outsider by the conquerors. When he was in Peru the Governor, della Gasca, ordered all foreigners out of the country because, according to Benzoni, 'it had been represented to him by some Spaniards that the Levantines, that is we, were false and cruel and had caused the death of several of them.' This questionable situation is not enlarged on: Benzoni simply states that in any case he 'was quite tired of remaining in those countries'. On 13 September 1556 he arrived back at his port of embarkation, San Lucar de Uarrameuu, with nothing much more than wealth of experience.
The tale of his experiences was not to be made public for ten years. By this time the nations of Europe, jealous of Spam's material advantages in the New World, were leaguing against tier influence. Benzoni had strong views about Spanish imperialism, and in 1565 La Historia del Mondo Nuovo came out at an appropriate moment. Published in Venice and dedicated to Pop^ Pius IV, it was translated into Latin, German and Flemish and m abbreviated form by Purchas into English. The de Bry version, which was spread over three volumes of America, was issued between 1594 and 1596. A number of the plates were based on the crude woodcuts of the Venice edition. Benzoni was not an intellectual but, as a fellow-countryman wrote, he had 'a clear intelligence and tenacious memory'. He is at his best when he is recounting his own adventures or writing from personal knowledge of political intrigues. It cannot be claimed that the work is more than a hearsay source for the stories of Columbus and of the Conquistadors which are tangled up with his text. But the descriptions of the cruelties of the Spaniards towards the Indians, though often echoing stories from Las Casas, cannot be dismissed as mere anti-Spanish propaganda. Benzoni was there. He witnessed endless reciprocal atrocities and the partial extinction of the Indians who interested him and whom he admired and pitied.
Theodore de Bry (1528-98) was the first to illustrate the literature of American travel with any degree of accuracy or elegance. His great series of printed books, with their large number of beautiful copper-plate engravings, brought to the European public the first realistic visualization of the exotic world opened up across the Atlantic by the explorers, conquerors and settlers.
Historia Americae, a series that was to run to fourteen volumes, was launched in 1590. Thus it was not until a hundred years after Columbus, by which time the globe had been circumnavigated three times and the oceans were bustling with European shipping, that an effective picture book was to be published on the New World. Though the renaissance of science and learning was in full spate and printing and engraving techniques, in those days of Plantin, Aldus and Diirer, were highly efficient, well-illustrated travel books did not make their appearance until late in the century with the productions of de Bry and his inferior imitator Hondius.
The main reason was lack of good material. In the beginning of the century information was available to those concerned only from the unpublished reports or 'relations' of the sea captains, the log-books and charts of the pilots and the romantically embellished maps of the cartographers. In addition, expansionist monarchs liked to keep their discoveries secret: John II of Portugal had made betrayal punishable by death. As a result, for the first twenty-five years there was little travel literature on the market and books that were obtainable gave no idea of how things actually looked in those distant lands where an increasing number of people might have wished to invest, adventure, settle, or simply travel in the mind. The best known early works about the New World were Oviedo's Historia general y natural de las Indias (1537-47), Peter Martyr's dc' Orl)e Novo Decades (1525), and later the popular collection of voyages compiled by Richard Hakluyt Divers voyages touching the discoverie of America (1582). These publications contained vivid verbal descriptions but, with the exception of some crude representations in Oviedo's Historia, no illustrations. Of lesser works, Ramusio's collected Navi- gation! e Viaggi (1550-59), Benzoni's Historia del Mondo Nuovo (1565), Thevet's Singularite^ de la France Antarctique (1558) and de Lory's Histoire d'un voyage/aid en la Terre du Bresil (1578) did carry rough attempts to picture the Indians and their artefacts, but in general it can be said that before de Bry travel books featured only the crudest cuts based on the imagination of the artist or the untutored sketches of travellers. Though there was some good first-hand material lodged in the archives of Spain it was not made available to publishers.
Despite the example of Sir Francis Drake who, according to his Portuguese pilot, was 'an adept at painting' and used to shut himself up with his cabin boy and work away at such items as 'birds, trees and sea lions', the English were backward in graphic recording. Richard Hakluyt the elder, an ardent promoter of merchant adventure, as late as 1585 thus instructed a projected North American expedition: 'A skilful painter is to be carried with you, which the Spaniards used commonly in all their discoveries to bring the descriptions of all beasts, fishes, trees, towns etc.' There is no mention, it may be noted, of people, though another abortive English expedition was counselled to 'drawe the figures and shapes of men in their apparell and also their manner ofwepons.' The 'figures and shapes' of primitive people seem to have presented some difficulty to artists brought up in the European tradition: Jean de Lery, finding problems with the anatomy of the Brazilian Indian, complained: 'Although I diligently perused and marked those barbarian people, for a whole year together, wherein I lived amongst them, so as I might conceive in my mind a certain proportion of them, yet I say, by reason of theirgation! e Viaggi diverse gestures and behaviours, utterly different from ours, it is a very difficult matter to express their true proportion . . . but if anyone covet to enjoy the full pleasure of them, I could wish him to go into America himself/ The latter sentiment was an echo of Oviedo, who did his limited best to provide illustrations for his Historia bewailing the lack of a Leonardo or Mantegna, both friends of his, to picture the scene — 'e muy major que todo esto es para visto que escripto ni pintado.' The first really efficient artist to record the American people was the French Huguenot Jacques Ie Moyne de Morgues, who was attached as artist to the disastrous French settlement in Florida and barely escaped massacre by the Spaniards in 1564. Le Moyne had since lived in London as a religious refugee and had worked up his sketches into a series of what must have been exquisite water colours if we are to judge from the only example that remains. The next useful set of pictures was not to appear until 1590, when John White was sent to Virginia with specific instructions from Sir Walter Raleigh to record local life around the newly-founded Roanoke settlement. White, who was to return as governor (his daughter Elinor Dare gave birth to Virginia, the first child born to English parents in America), produced a wonderful set of paintings of Indians, birds, insects and fishes, the originals of which are now in the British Museum. It was the knowledge of the availability of these two splendid series that gave Theodore de Bry his great idea: to produce a comprehensive set of travels based on original texts and generously illustrated with accurate engravings. He had a third source to hand: the twenty-eight woodcuts published in Marburg in 1557, accompanying the remarkable story of Hans Staden. Staden had spent nine months as prisoner of the Tupinamba cannibals of Brazil. His clearly authentic account was illustrated by crude but informative woodcuts made under his supervision. De Bry's adaptation of them was to result in the most sensational section of his project.
Theodore de Bry was born in Liege in 1528, a Protestant at a disadvantageous time when the Duke ofAlva and the Spanish Catholics were rampaging through the Netherlands. In 1570 he was forced to flee to Strasbourg where he opened up a goldsmith's shop and like others of that trade doubled as an engraver. We have a glimpse of him in the foreword to Icones quinquaginta virorum illustrium (1597), a book of lives of worthy men, which he illustrated: 'I was the offspring of parents born to an honourable station and in the first rank among the more honoured citizens of Liege. But stripped of all these belongings by accidents, cheats, and ill luck and by the depredations of robbers, I had to contend against adverse fortune so that only by my art could I fend for myself. Art alone remained to me of the ample patrimony left me by my parents. On that neither robbers nor the rapacious bands of thieves could lay hands. Art restored my former wealth and reputation, and has never failed me, its tireless devotee.'
Later in the same work his homily to the reader gives further indication of his puritan temperament: 'I would specially prevail on parents to attend diligently to the upbringing of their children that they melt not away in detestable ease, which is indeed the pillow of Satan, and so at last bring upon themselves the extremity of sorrow. . . . For it is not by sleep or idle hours that these famous men have won such a name as to shine forth amongst the illustrious luminaries of the world. But unwearied pains, indefatigable labour and the most burning love of truth in the investigation of the abstruse have brought them these honours.'
De Bry materializes more precisely in an engraved self- portrait published a year before his death. He looks prosperous enough in his merchant's coat trimmed with fur; his hair is white and sparse, and his eyes seem strained at peering too closely over his plates; map-makers' dividers are in one hand and in the other a skull. His motto Nul sans Souci conveys that nothing good can be achieved without painstaking effort, a principle he seems to have kept in mind to the end of his days if we are to believe his friend the French antiquary Jean-Jacques Boissard who wrote, apropos the illustrated voyages: 'He is especially to be praised in this, that though now almost seventy years of age, and at a time of life when men are unfitted for more laborious actions, yet he, pursuing his former skill, and lest he grow benumbed with unfruitful ease spends his whole day on his engraving and typographical work, although he is daily weakened with gout, and his hands and fingers are contracted into knots. He draws assiduously and delineates everything with such perfection, that a young man of thirty could not do it with more precision.' This intense dedication, considerable skill as an engraver, money in the bank, and now access to good material made de Bry well-equipped to carry out his ambitious project.
Richard Hakluyt, scholarly Englishman, friend of Sir Walter Raleigh, had long had the idea of putting, together the narratives of explorers for the inspiration of English readers. His great work The Principall Navigations, Voiages and Discoveries of the English nation was taking shape and in 1587 he published an English translation of Rene de Laudonniere's account of the French adventure in Florida. In the margin of the dedication to Raleigh, Hakluyt remarks that 'The chiefe things worthie observation in Florida are drawen in colours by James Morgues painter sometime living in the Black fryers in London.' This was none other than Jacques Ie Moyne, referred to above, who twenty years earlier had been recording the New World for the French. Perhaps de Bry saw this reference in Hakluyt's publication, for in that year he came to London to see if he could obtain the drawings for his own purpose. Though a brother Huguenot, Ie Moyne would not sell; a publisher, engraver and bookseller himself he may have had the idea of producing a book on his own account. Before returning home de Bry started on a commission to engrave thirty plates for Lant's drawings of the funeral procession of Sir Philip Sidney. News of Ie Moyne's death and a commission to illustrate Sir Anthony Ashley's translation of the Dutch work The Mariner's Mirrour, brought him back to London the following year and he was able to buy the coveted pictures. 'Filled with joy, therefore', he wrote in the preface to the Florida story he was soon to publish, 'at having obtained it, I have spared no expense to commit the work to the press, and I and my children have spent diligent pains in engraving the pictures on copper plates, to render them clearer, although little durable, because that kind of engraving being more delicate is easily worn.'
De Bry probably met Hakluyt on his first visit to London; in any case on his return the two of them were deep in discussions over publishing matters. The artist John White, now governor of Virginia, was in London, and on Hakluyt's introduction de Bry was able to obtain his drawings of Roanoke and its environs. Hakluyt must have realized that he himself was technically incapable of producing illustrated books otherwise it is difficult to understand his apparent generosity in giving ideas and material to a rival in the same field of publishing. But Hakluyt had one request to make: that de Bry should open his series with the Virginia story rather than Florida, even though it happened later. Hakluyt and his friend Raleigh were not concerned with de Bry's chronology: they had in mind to publicize as quickly as possible a vindication and further promotion of the discredited English colony for which White was at that time desperately trying to obtain relief. De Bry could but agree: it may even have been a condition of the deal. As he wrote somewhat wistfully in the foreword to the English edition of Virginia, published in 1590 and dedicated to Sir Walter Raleigh: 'being there unto requested by my friends, by reason of the late performance thereof, albeyt I have in hand the Historye of Florida which should bee first set foorthe because it was discovered by the Frenchmen long before the discovery of Virginia, yet I hope shortly also to publish the same, a Historye doubtless so Rare, as I think the like has not been heard nor seene.' De Bry's monumental series falls into two sections known to bibliophiles as the Grands et Petits Voyages, and comprising a total of twenty-five parts. The Grands Voyages, so called because the size of the volumes in the series was larger than that of the Petits Voyages, are concerned almost entirely with the Americas; the Petits Voyages cover Africa and the East Indies. Theodore de Bry lived to publish the first six volumes of the Grands Voyages. Thereafter the venture, which had become the main family business, was continued by his widow and sons and grandsons-in-law until 1634, when the final volume of the Grands Voyages was published. The pictures should be looked into carefully, for they may contain many telling details and one plate may be a serial story in itself. As well as conveying information about the native way of life there is something to be learned about the customs, costumes, weapons, and the enormous canoes of the European savages who so ruthlessly hacked their way through the American Arcadia. If scale and perspective are often eccentric and if the savages sometimes look like European ecclesiastics we must try and see them through the eyes of the time and remember that the traditions of the illustrators were not so far removed from the illuminators. Though a mannerist in the heyday of mannerism, as his other engraved work reveals, de Bry did not let his decorative urge overwhelm his historical integrity: if prepared to let fancy run free in spendidly florid title pages and allegorical glorifications of great explorers, he saw to it that when an original was available it was adapted seriously and without indulgence; where imagination was called for it was kept in check. In any event, the historical, anthropological and ethnological content of the plates and their sheer artistic interest - and surely many of the pictures have a compelling aesthetic appeal — produce a treasure trove that has lain for far too long in the confines of a few exclusive libraries. As his friend Boissard expressed it: 'Undoubtedly posterity will have cause to be grateful to Theodore de Bry of Liege. He has spent the whole of his past life with these objects always before his eyes — the promotion of literature by his studies and the increase of the public good by his infinite labours, combining pleasing entertainment with useful instruction. In all this I know not whether we should admire most his art, his genius, or his diligence. For there is nothing done by him in which accurate industry and ingenious invention are not apparent; whereby not only does he feed the minds of his readers, but delights the eyes of those who gaze on his work.'