Theodor de Bry's America

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Last Updated: 2021-05-06

These detailed copper plate engravings depict the arrival of the Spaniards in the New World and their encounters with native peoples. They are taken from the sixteenth century book Americae, volume IV of Theodor de Bry’s Grandes Voyages series, a collection which gave many Europeans their first visual representations of North America.

The engravings highlight not only the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the West Indies, but atrocities perpetrated by the Spanish on the Native Americans. Plates show the Spaniards hanging the Native Americans on board a ship, throwing them to the dogs, and attacking them with swords and muskets. Other plates depict the Native Americans pouring molten gold down the Spaniards’ throats, and drowning one of the Spaniards in the sea. Because De Bry had never seen any Native Americans, he made them resemble idealized Greco-Roman figures.

Theodor de Bry was born in 1528 in Liège, Belgium, where he trained as a goldsmith and engraver. He fled Liège around 1570 to avoid persecution by Catholics, eventually settling in Frankfurt. He began working on the multi-volume Grandes Voyages in 1590, and completed the first six volumes before his death in 1598. The books were published in both German and Latin. His wife and son carried on the project, releasing twenty-one more volumes through the year 1634. Americae, volume IV was based on Giralamo Benzoni’s eyewitness travel account Historia del Mondo Nuovo, and most of its engravings were based on earlier illustrations by Johannes Stradanus.

The University of Houston Libraries’ copy of Americae, volume IV is a first edition printed in German, with the exception of the title page which comes from a first edition printed in Latin. This copy is missing plates 2, 3, 19, 21, and 23, as well as its original map of the West Indies and adjacent coasts. The Libraries would like to thank Valeria Nardi for her translation of the book’s title page.

The original materials are available in UH Libraries' Special Collections in Americae pars quarta, sive, Insignis & admiranda historia de reperta primùm Occidentalis India à Christophoro Columbo anno M. CCCCXCII.

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