A weroan or great Lorde of Virginia
Hand-coloured copperplate engraving.Full description »
Hand-coloured copperplate engraving. Plate III 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, here shown hunting.
Text reads, 'The princes of Virginia are arrayed in suche manner as is expressed in this figure. They weare the hair of their heads long and bynde opp the ende of the same in a knot under their eares. Yet they cut the top of their heads from the forehead to the nape of the necke in manner of a cockscombe… They weare a chaine about their necks of pearles or beades of copper, wich they much esteeme. And ther of wear they also braselets on their armes. Under their breasts about their bellyes appear certayne spots, whear they use to let themselves bloode, when they are sicke… They take much pleasure in hunting of deer wher of ther is greate store in the countrye, for yt is fruitfull, pleasant, and full of Goodly woods. Yt hathe also store of rivers full of divers sorts of fishe. When they go to battle they paynt their bodyes in the most terrible manner that they can devise.'
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.