A chieff Ladye of Pomeiooc


Hand-coloured copperplate engraving.

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Hand-coloured copperplate engraving. Plate VIII from de Bry's 'America Part I (Virginia)', part of his 'Les Grands Voyages' series. The plate is based on a watercolour by John White from a series depicting Algonquian people.

Text reads, 'About 20. miles from that lland, neere the lake of Paquippe, ther is another towne called Pomeioock hard by the sea. The apparel of the cheefe ladyes of dat towne differeth but little from the attire of those which lyue in Roanaac. For they weare their haire trussed opp in a knott, as the maiden doe which we spake of before, and have their skinnes pownced in the same manner, yet they wear a chaine of great pearles, or beades of copper, or smoothe bones 5. or 6. fold about their necks, bearinge one arme in the same, in the other hand they carye a gourde full of some kind of pleasant liquor. They tye deers skinne doubled about them crochinge higher about their breasts, which hange downe behinde, and is drawn under neath between their twiste, and bownde aboue their navel with mose of trees between that and their skinnes to cover this priuiliers withal. After they be once past 10. yeares of age, they wear deer skinnes as the older sorte do. They are greatlye Diligted with puppets, and babes which wear brought oute of England.'

The many volumes of 'Les Grands Voyages' are all linked by a common purpose: to undermine the claims of Catholic Spain in the New World. As such, De Bry’s publishing enterprise is a work of propaganda. Caution is particularly necessary when assessing the engraved depictions of the Algonquian people, which, more than John White’s original drawings, are works of artifice rather than ethnography. These idealised individuals, surrounded by an earthly paradise, inversely reflect the corruption of Europe. As if to accentuate this point in the first volume, America Part I (Virginia), De Bry included depictions of tattooed Picts (also based on watercolour drawings by John White). De Bry did so, according to his Preface: ‘for to showe how that the Inhabitants of the great Bretannie haue bin in times past as sauuage as those of Virginia’.

In 1588, when De Bry met White, who had returned to England to seek help and supplies for the doomed Roanoke colony, the nation was preparing for the threat of Spanish invasion. De Bry’s suggestion that White’s watercolour sketches should be published encouraged White to rework them in the hope that, by publicising the colony's plight, the proposed book could aid him in his efforts. De Bry utilised twenty-three of White’s originals to accompany Thomas Hariot’s ‘brief and true’ description of the land their sponsor Raleigh had named ‘Virginia’.

De Bry made some concessions to contemporary taste when engraving copies of White’s drawings: he added figures and other items to scenes for the sake of artistic balance; the men appear over-muscled to comply with the Mannerist style (although accounts do describe the native Virginians as having robust health and strong physiques); the women’s figures are plumped to almost Rubenesque proportions; and poses have been altered for fear of offending a European reader’s sense of decency.

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» Frankfurt, Germany
» Virginia



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