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Theodor de Bry

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Theodor de Bry

An engraving portrait of Theodorus de Bry, by himself and confirming his origins from Liège, in Latin "Leodiensis". He is dressed in work costume, with a flange goffered on a collar of fur, one hand holding a compass while the other rests on a human skull, both signs of erudition at that time. With his high head, sharp eyes, and severe face, he seems to pronounce the Latin words registered on the table: "Domine, doce me ita reliquos vitae meae dies transigere ut in vera pietate vivam et moriar". (Translation: "Lord, teach me to pass the remaining days of my life such that I live and die in true piety.") Just below these words, there is the motto of the de Bry family, NUL SANS SOUCY, which means "none without worry".

Theodorus de Bry (1528 – 27 March 1598) was an engraver, goldsmith and editor who traveled around Europe, starting from the city of Liège in the Prince-Bishopric of Liège (where he was born and grew up), then to Strasbourg, Antwerp, London and Frankfurt, where he settled.

Theodorus de Bry created a large number of engraved illustrations for his books. Most of his books were based on first-hand observations by explorers, even if De Bry himself, acting as a recorder of information, never visited the Americas. To modern eyes, many of the illustrations seem formal but detailed.


The Trvve Picture of One Picte: Theodor de Bry’s engraving of an imagined Pict (a member of an ancient people from what is today Scotland), published in Thomas Hariot’s 1588 book "A Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia".

Theodorus de Bry was born in 1528 in Liège, Prince-Bishopric of Liège, nowadays in Belgium to a family which had escaped the destruction of the city of Dinant in 1466 during the Liège Wars by the Duke of Burgundy, Philip the Good and his son Charles the Bold. As a man he trained under his grandfather, Thiry de Bry senior (? - 1528), and under his father, Thiry de Bry junior (1495–1590), who were jewelers and engravers, engraving copper plates. The art of copper plate engraving was the technology required at that time for printing images and drawings as part of books. In 1524 Thiry de Bry junior married Catherine le Blavier, daughter of Conrad le Blavier de Jemeppe. Their son, Theodorus de Bry, also became a jeweler, engraver and book editor and publisher, famous most notably for his depictions of early European expeditions to the Americas.

Around 1570, Theodorus de Bry, a Protestant, fled religious persecution south to Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues.

Depiction of Spanish atrocities in the New World, as recounted by Bartolomé de las Casas in Narratio Regionum indicarum per Hispanos Quosdam devastatarum verissima.[1]

In 1588, Theodorus and his family moved permanently to Frankfurt-am-Main, where he became citizen and began to plan his first publications. The most famous one is known as Les Grands Voyages, i.e., "The Great Travels", or "The Discovery of America". He also published the largely identical "India Orientalis-series", as well as many other illustrated works on a wide range of subjects. His books were published in Latin, and were also translated into German, English and French to reach a wider reading public.

In 1590 Theodorus de Bry and his sons published a new, illustrated edition of

Village of Secoton, engraved illustration by de Bry accompanying Thomas Hariot's book of 1588 A Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia
Engraving of Columbus, the discoverer of the New World, 1594

He and his son John-Theodore (1560–1623) made adjustments to both the texts and the illustrations of the original accounts, on the one hand in function of his own understanding of Le Moyne's paintings, and, most importantly, to please potential buyers. The Latin and German editions varied markedly, in accordance with the differences in estimated readership. Amerindians look like Mediterranean Europeans and illustrations mix different tribal customs and artifacts. In addition to day-to-day life of the American natives, Theodore de Bry even included a few depictions of cannibalism. All in all, the vast amount of these illustrations and texts influenced the European perception of the New World, Africa, and Asia.

The verisimilitude of many of de Bry's illustrations is questionable; not least because he never crossed the Atlantic. Modern archaeologists and historians have noticed a number of misunderstandings and mistakes. Florida archaeologist Jerald T. Milanich has expressed doubts that Theodorus de Bry really used le Moyne's original paintings, because, according to his sources, most of le Moyne's surviving illustrations are botanical. But perhaps that these botanical illustrations were not bought by T. de Bry. As the botanical part was left in England, separated from the other illustrations which T. de Bry took with him, when going back to his family at Frankfurt, Germany, that may explain this apparent discrepancy.

The Map of Virginia, circa 1585-1586.

Among other works he engraved a set of twelve plates illustrating the Procession of the Knights of the Garter in 1587, and a set of thirty-four plates illustrating the Procession at the Obsequies of Sir Philip Sidney; plates for Thomas Harriot's Brief and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia (Frankfurt, 1590); the plates for the six volumes of Jean-Jacques Boissard's Romanae Urbis Topogrephia et Antiquitates (1597–1602); and, with Boissard, a series of 100 portraits and biographies of humanists and Protestants entitled Icones Virorum Illustrium (1597–1599).

De Bry had been assisted by his two sons, Johann Theodor de Bry (1561–1623) and Johann Israel de Bry (1565–1609) who after their father's death in Frankfurt-am-Main on 27 March 1598 carried on the Collectiones (expanded to voyages in Asia, reaching 30 volumes) and the illustration of Boissard's work, and also added to the Icones and other significant publications, like Robert Fludd's works on the microcosm and macrocosm.

His work and engravings can today be consulted at many museums around the world, including Liège, his birthplace, and at Brussels in Belgium. In France, they are housed at the Library of the Marine Historical Service, at the "Château de Vincennes", on the outskirt of Paris. In the USA, there are copies at the Public Library of New York, at the University of California at Los Angeles, and elsewhere. At Argentina is possible to find copies at Museo Maritimo de Ushuaia, at Tierra del Fuego and at the Navy Department of Historic Studies, at Buenos Aires. In Scotland, eleven titles are listed in the catalogue of Edinburgh University Library (Special Collections).

Last but not least, his engravings, which were in black and white have recently been put into colors, which adds a new dimension to his masterpieces [Bouyer M. & Duviols J.-P., 1992]


The Towne of Pomeiooc, engraved illustration by de Bry accompanying Thomas Hariot's book of 1588 A Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia
  • 1590–1634 Bry (Theodore de). Collectiones peregrinatiorum in Indiam orientalem et Indiam occidentalem, XIII partibus comprehenso a Theodoro, Joan-Theodoro de Bry, et a Matheo Merian publicatae. Francofurti. 1590-1634. Fol. (Parts I to VI, edited and illustrated by T. de Bry, parts VII to IX by his sons, Johann Theodor and Johann Israel de B.; parts X to XII by J. T. de B., and part XIII by M.Merian.)
  • 1596 (America. Part VI.) Historiae ab A. Bezono ... scriptae, sectio hac reperies qua natione Hispani... Peruani regni provincias occuparint, capto rege Atabaliba, etc. (3d part of G. Benzoni's Historia del Mondo Nuovo.) Map and plates, 2 parts. Frankfurt. 1596. Fol.
  • 1617 (Second edition). Oppenheimii. 1617. Fol.
  • 1595 (German edition). Frankfurt. 1595. Fol.
  • 1613 (Second German edition). Frankfurt. 1613. Fol.
  • 1599 (America. Part VII). Descriptionem trium itinerum. . .equitis F. Draken....J. Hauckens.. .G. Ralegh ... in Latinum sermonem conversaauctore G. Artus. Maps and plates. 3 pt. Francofurti. 1599. Fol.
  • 1625 (Second edition). Francofurti. 1625. Fol.
  • 1602 (America. Part IX). De novi orbis natura (by Acosta). Accessit... S. de Weert and...O. a. Noort ....Plates. 5 pt. Francofurti. 1602. Fol.
  • 1633 (Second edition). Francofurti. 1633. Fol.
  • 1601 (German edition). Yon Gelegenheit der elemente natur de Neuer Welt. J. H. v. Linschoten. Frankfurt. 1601. Fol.
  • 1602 (Latin and German edition). Francofurti. 1602.
  • 1620 (Latin). Francofurti. 1634. Fol.


Engraving depicting Portuguese ships preparing to depart from Lisbon. c 1593
  1. ^ Commentary by Tom Conley, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, The Newberry Library, 1990Theatres of Cruelty: Wars of Religion, Violence, and The New World
  2. ^
  • Beck, Lauren, "Illustrating the Conquest in the Long Eighteenth Century: Theodore de Bry and His Legacy," in Book Illustration in the Long Eighteenth Century: Reconfiguring the Visual Periphery of the Text, Ed. Christina Ionescu. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars, 2011, 501-40.
  • BOUYER M. & DUVIOLS J.-P., 1992. Le Théâtre du Nouveau Monde: Les grands Voyages de Théodore de Bry. Découvertes Gallimard Albums (Publ.); pp. 228. - ISBN 2-07-056509-2 - (in French)
  • 1986 Exhibition "The "de Bry", Family of jewelers-engravers", at the Museum of the Walloon Life, at Liège, Belgium.
  • Bucher, Bernadette, 1981. Icon and Conquest: A Structural Analysis of the Illustrations of the de Bry's Great Voyages. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press. 220 pp. with illustrations =ISBN 0-226-07832-9 (translated from the French edition 1977, La Sauvage aux seins pendants. Paris: Hermann.272 pp. with de Bry illustrations. ISBN 2-7056-5845-9)
  • Thomas HARRIOT. A briefe and true Report of the new found Land of Virginia. The complete 1590 edition with 28 engravings by Theodor de Bry, after the drawings of John White and other illustrations. With a new introduction by Paul HULTON of the British Museum. Dover Publications, Inc. (1972); pp. 91. - ISBN 0-486-21092-8
  • Michiel van Groesen, The Representations of the Overseas World in the De Bry Collection of Voyages (1590-1634) (Leiden/Boston 2008)
  • Henry Keazor: "Theodore De Bry's Images for America", in: Print Quarterly, XV, No. 2, Juni 1998, p. 131 - 149
  • Henry Keazor: "'Charting the autobiographical, selfregarding subject'? Theodor De Brys Selbstbildnis", in: Berichten, Erzählen, Beherrschen - Wahrnehmung und Repräsentation in der frühen Kolonialgeschichte Europas, hrsg. von Susanna Burghartz, Maike Christadler und Dorothea Nolde (= Zeitsprünge - Forschungen zur Frühen Neuzeit, Band 7, Heft 2/3), Frankfurt am Main 2003, p. 395 - 428
  • Jerald T. Milanich - The Devil in the Details (Archaeology magazine May/June 2005
  • Archives of the de Bry family.

External links

  • Media related to at Wikimedia Commons
  • Théodore de Bry of Liège: portrait, biography, masterpieces (in French).
  • Les collections artistiques de l'Université de Liège
  • La Renaissance liègeoise et la lutte contre la réforme (in French)
  • Theodore de Bry and his illustrated Voyages and Travels
  • Contents of Grands Voyages, by Theodore de Bry. German and Latin Editions.
  • De Bry's Grand Voyages. Early Expeditions To The New World.
  • The Roanoke Colony of "Virginia" from De Bry's Grand Voyages.
  • Index of White watercolors/De Bry Engravings
  • Picturing the new World: Hand-colored DeBry Engravings of 1590.
  • printsGrand Voyages Birmingham Public Library (Alabama)
  • Johan Theodor de Bry in Rijksmuseum
  • One of the largest collection of de Brys prints available to date
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