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Sunday Favorites: The Perspective that Shaped a World View

Published Sunday, June 1, 2014 12:06 am

Dutch engraver and goldsmith Theodor de Bry is credited with providing the world with the first glance into the lives of Florida’s native population.


In 1591, De Bry published Grand Voyages, which contained the earliest-known European images of Native Americans in what is now Florida. 


While some historians believe that De Bry’s renditions may have included propaganda meant to promote Florida’s colonization by Europeans, the images are considered historically significant while also highly controversial. 


De Bry’s collection of 42 plaques is largely based on the works of Jacques le Moyne de Morgues (1533–1588), a French artist and member of Jean Ribault's expedition to the New World. 


Le Moyne accompanied Ribault and René Laudonnière in an ill-fated attempt to colonize northern Florida. He served as the official recording artist and cartographer.


In September 1565, Spanish soldiers led by Pedro Menéndez de Avilés attacked and killed the French colonists in an event known as the Fort Caroline Massacre. Le Moyne survived the attack and sought refuge in England.

Photo credit: Florida Memory Project


Le Moyne ended his career as a highly regarded botanical artist in Elizabethan London.


De Bry obtained Le Moyne’s original sketches shortly after his death in 1588. Some scholars have criticized De Bry’s renditions of Le Moyne’s sketches because the do not match later depictions of the Timucua Indians encountered by the French in northeastern Florida.


They and also contend that de Bry altered the images prior to publication. 


For instance, in one image depicting Timucua warfare against the Potanou, there are visible mountains on the horizon of what is supposed to be northeastern Florida. 


Other images also contain items not found in Florida. In one sketch, the Timucuan used a Pacific nautilus shell, which is only found in the ocean, as a ceremonial object rather than the Florida whelk shell, according to the Florida Memory Project. 


Despite the indiscrepancies, the images reveal a wealth of information not only about how the native tribes lived but also largely depicted European aspirations to colonize Florida. 


Engravings like “Order of March Observed by Outina on a Military Expedition,” were meant to promote colonization.


Photo credit: Florida Memory Project


“This image conveyed the notion that the Timucua obeyed authority, were organized and fit for war, and could perhaps aid the Protestant French against their Catholic enemies vying for control of the Americas. The images depict the Timucua as less sophisticated than Europeans, both in terms of dress and weaponry, and therefore they were seen as potential candidates for accepting French religion and civilization,” according to the Florida Memory Project blog. 


De Bry may have never traveled to the Americas, but the images he created helped to shape the European perception of Native American cultures and the land they inhabited and have given modern day scientists and historians a glimpse into life in the Americans at that time. 

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Thelma Mathis December 14, 2014
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