The State Library and Archives is pleased to present Theodor de Bry’s 16th century engravings in conjunction with the Florida Department of State’s Viva Florida 500 commemoration. Digital copies of the de Bry engravings are made possible by a donation from the Michael W. and Dr. Linda Fisher Collection.
De Bry’s engravings, first published in Grand Voyages (1591), contain the earliest known European images of Native Americans in what is now Florida. For his engravings, de Bry relied on the first-hand account of Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues, a member of the short-lived French colony at Fort Caroline. De Bry based his engravings on sketches made by Le Moyne of his experiences in Florida. Since Le Moyne’s original work has been lost, de Bry’s engravings are the only remaining visual history of the French expeditions to Florida in 1562 and 1564.
De Bry’s renditions of Le Moyne’s sketches are both historically significant and highly controversial. Scholars point out that certain aspects of the engravings do not match later depictions of the Timucua Indians encountered by the French in northeastern Florida, and also contend that de Bry certainly altered the images prior to publication. Artistic license is evident in several of the images included here. For example, in the scene depicting Timucua warfare against the Potanou [Plate XIII], mountains are visible in what is supposed to be northeastern Florida. Other images also contain items not found in Florida, such as the Pacific nautilus rather than the Florida whelk shell as a Timucuan ceremonial object [Plates XIX and XL].
In other instances, more reliable clues about Timucuan culture emerge. For example, in Plate XVIII, “The Chief Applied to by Women Whose Husbands Have Died in the War or by Disease,” the Timucua chief is adorned with numerous tattoos. Because Europeans were largely unfamiliar with tattooing for decorative purposes, it is unlikely that either Le Moyne or de Bry fabricated Timucuan body art. Later ethnographic information confirms that tattooing was common among the southeastern Indians.
The original 42 plates that make up de Bry’s series on Florida can be viewed on the Florida Memory website. The images are accompanied by English translations of the first German-language edition of Grand Voyages.