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First Look: Interpreting Early European Artistic Renderings of the New World PowerPoint PPT Presentation

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Mosquitoes The Natural History of the West Indies (ca. 1568). First Look: Interpreting Early European Artistic Renderings of the New World A Live, Online Professional Development Seminar. GOALS To deepen understanding of how and why Europeans

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First Look: Interpreting Early European Artistic Renderings of the New World

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The Natural History of the West Indies

(ca. 1568)

First Look:

Interpreting Early European Artistic Renderings of the New World

A Live, Online Professional Development Seminar


To deepen understanding of how and why Europeans

interpreted the New World as they did upon first

encountering it

To provide fresh ways to teach the European encounter

with the New World

Michael Gaudio

Associate Professor of Art History

University of Minnesota

Visual culture of early modern Europe and the Atlantic world (ca. 1500-1800)

Engraving the Savage: The New World and Techniques of Civilization (2008)

“Surface and Depth: The Art of Early American Natural History,” in Stuffing Birds, Pressing Plants, Shaping Knowledge: Natural History in North America 1730-1860 (2003)

Framing Questions

Where do “art” and “science” intersect in John White's watercolors?How would John White's watercolors have been seen by his contemporaries?

What impact did White's work have on later generations?

John White’s watercolors of Virginia

Illustrating the

New World

John White and the Roanoke colony

John White travels to Virginia (present-day North Carolina) in 1585 as part of the surveying team for the first Roanoke colony. White’s famous collection of watercolor drawings in the British Museum is a result of this trip.

In 1587 White returns with colonists to Roanoke and oversees the new colony as its governor. Later that year he travels back to England for supplies but is unable to return to Roanoke until 1590, but the colonists have disappeared by this point.

Elizabeth I

Sir Walter Ralegh


de Bry

Thomas Hariot


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Theodor de Bry’s edition of Thomas Hariot’s Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia, 1590. The volume, published in 4 languages, includes 28 engravings based on the Virginia watercolors of John White.

This volume became the first of a very successful13-part series of illustrated volumes about America published by the de Bry family.

Art and Science in John White’s

watercolor drawings of Virginia

Consider these questions in relation to the following slides:

• Are John White’s drawings faithful depictions of what he saw in Virginia?

• Are John White’s drawings shaped by his own cultural habits and preconceptions?

The Renaissance:

A new naturalism in the visual arts

John White, Hermit crabs, 1585

Leonardo da Vinci, bones of the arm, c. 1500

Albrecht Dürer, Hare, 1502

  • All depends on keeping the eye steadily fixed upon the facts of nature and so receiving their images simply as they are. For God forbid that we should give out a dream of our own imagination for a pattern of the world.

    • -Sir Francis Bacon, 1620

The “Monstrous Races”

John White departs from the very old European tradition of depicting peoples at the furthest reaches of the known world as “the monstrous races.” This tradition goes back to classical antiquity and includes such creatures as Blemmyes who have their heads in their chests and Sciapods who take shelter from the hot sun under a single large foot.



The Medieval world

Hereford World Map (and detail),

13th century

White’s world and the Medieval world

What differences in world view are expressed by these two maps?

Hereford World Map,

13th century

John White, map of the Virginia coast, 1585

The “Monstrous Races” and the New World

Even during White’s time, the tradition of the monstrous races continued to provide a model for depicting the inhabitants of America.

A Brazilian and a Cyclops, illustrations from a French book on the customs of the world, 1562

Blemmyes in South America, illustration from a 1599 edition of Sir Walter Ralegh’s Discovery of Guiana

Jacques le Moyne in Florida

This engraving by Theodor de Bry showsTimucuan Indians offering a stag to the sun. It is based on a lost original drawing by Jacques le Moyne.

Le Moyne traveled to Florida in 1564 as part of an effort to establish a French Protestant colony.

  • “We may well call these people barbarians, in respect to the rules of reason, but not in respect to ourselves, who surpass them in every kind of barbarity.”

    • Michel de Montaigne, “On Cannibals,” 1580

“Indian of Loranbec,” c. 1586

The Drake Manuscript

The Drake Manuscript was created by at least two French artists who accompanied Sir Francis Drake on his voyages in the 1580s and early 1590s.

Right: Manta Ray and Shark from the Drake Manuscript

Below: John White, “The manner of their fishing”

Bugs of America

Drake Manuscript, Mosquitoes, early 1590s

John White, Fireflies and biting fly, 1585

How does John White’s art reflect his own point of view, his own cultural background as an Elizabethan Englishman?

Conventions of Elizabethan Portraiture

Portrait of Sir Walter Ralegh and his son, 1602

How do Theodor de Bry’s copies re-interpret the original watercolor drawings by White?

“A weroan or great Lord of Virginia”

“A chief Lady of Pomeiooc”

…Commonly their young daughters of 7 or 8 years old do wait upon them wearing about them a girdle of skin.… After they be once past 10 years of age, they wear deer skins as the older sort do. They are greatly delighted with puppets and babes [dolls] which were brought out of England.

“The Conjuror”

They have commonly conjurers or jugglers which use strange gestures, and often contrary to nature in their enchantments: For they be very familiar with devils, of whom they inquire what their enemies do, or other such things. They shave all their heads saving their crest which they wear as other do, and fasten a small black bird above one of their ears as a badge of their office. They wear nothing but a skin which hangs down from their girdle, and covers their privates. They wear a bag by their side as is expressed in the figure. The Inhabitants give great credit to their speech, which oftentimes they find to be true.

The Significance of White’s Pictures in 1585

Consider these questions in relation to the following slides:

• What motivated White to produce his depictions of Virginia?

• What meanings would White’s contemporaries have found in these images?

Collecting the New World

Description of the London Cabinet of Curiosities of

Sir Walter Cope, by the Swiss traveler Thomas Platter, 1599:

This same Mr. Cope inhabits a fine house …; he led us into an apartment stuffed with queer foreign objects in every corner, and amongst other things I saw there, the following seemed of interest.

1. An African charm made of teeth.2. Many weapons, arrows, and other things made of fishbone.3. Beautiful Indian plumes, ornaments, and clothes from China.5. A curious Javanese costume.7. Shoes from many strange lands.9. Beautiful coats from Arabia.10. A string instrument with but one string.12. The horn and tail of a rhinoceros, is a large animal like an elephant.16. A round horn which had grown on an English woman's forehead.17. An embalmed child (Mumia).19. The bauble and bells of Henry VIII's fool.20. A unicorn's tail.27. Flying rhinoceros.29. Flies which glow at night in Virginia instead of lights, since there is often no day there for over a month.30. A small bone implement used in India for scratching oneself.31. The Queen of England’s seal.33. Porcelain from China.36. A Madonna made of Indian feathers.43. Heathen idols.50. A long narrow Indian canoe, with the oars and sliding planks, hung from the ceiling of this room.

A Cabinet of Curiosities in Naples, 1599

John White as a Collector

  • “Draw to life all strange birds, beasts, fishes, plants, herbs, trees, and fruits and bring home of each sort as near as you may.”

    • -Instructions given to the artist who traveled on a 1583 voyage to the northern Atlantic coast of America.

You Are What You Wear: Costume Studies by John White

Like many of his contemporaries, John White was interested in cataloging the various costumes worn throughout the world and throughout history. What kind of insight do these pictures give us into his depictions of Virginians?

Roman soldier

Duke of Genoa

Turkish woman with veil

Elizabethan artists encounter Inuits in Bristol, England

Lucas de Heere’s depicton of an Inuit captive brought to Bristol in 1576

John White’s depiction of an Inuit captive (named Kalicho) brought to Bristol in 1577

The Naked Englishman

Lucas de Heere, A Naked Englishman, 1570s

What role does costume play in Simon van de Passe’s portrait of Pocahontas from 1616?

From William Shakespeare, The Tempest, Act 2, Scene 2:

Trinculo: What have we here? a man or a fish? dead or alive? A fish: he smells like a fish; a very ancient and fish-like smell; a kind of not of the newest Poor-John. A strange fish! Were I in England now, as once I was, and had but this fish painted, not a holiday fool there but would give a piece of silver: there would this monster make a man; any strange beast there makes a man: when they will not give a doit to relieve a lame beggar, they will lay out ten to see a dead Indian.

John White made several fanciful studies of the ancients Picts and Britons who had once inhabited the British Isles. Theodor de Bry included these images at the end of his series of Virginia engravings. What was the purpose of doing this?

At the beginning of his engravings of Virginia, Theodor de Bry places this engraving of Adam and Eve. What effect does this have on the viewer’s understanding of the following images?

Thomas Hariot, from A Briefe and True Report:

For mankind they say a woman was made first, which by the working of one of the gods, conceived and brought forth children: And in such sort they say they had their beginning. But how many years or ages have passed since, they say they can make no relation, having no letters nor other such means as we to keep records of the particularities of times past, but only tradition from father to son.

The Impact of John White’s watercolors

• In what ways did John White’s illustrations influence later generations? Whom did they influence?

• White’s illustrations served as the prototypical images of North American Indians for a long time. Why is this so? And when did artists again feel a need to start producing new images?

Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, June 11, 1812:

You ask if there is any book that pretends to give any account of the traditions of the Indians, or how one can acquire an idea of them? Some scanty accounts of their traditions, but fuller of their customs and characters are given us by most of the early travellers among them. These you know were chiefly French. Lafitau, among them, and Adair an Englishman, have written on this subject…

The scope of your enquiry would scarcely, I suppose, take in the three folio volumes of Latin by De Bry. In these fact and fable are mingled together, without regard to any favorite system. They are less suspicious therefore in their complexion, more original and authentic, than those of Lafitau and Adair. This is a work of great curiosity, extremely rare, so as never to be bought in Europe, but on the breaking up, and selling some antient library. On one of these occasions a bookseller procured me a copy, which, unless you have one, is probably the only one in America.

The Afterlife of White’s Images


Bernard Picart,

The Ceremonies and Religious Customs of the Various Nations of the Known World, 1723


Joseph-François Lafitau,

Customs of the American Indians Compared with the Customs of Primitive Times, 1724

John White, An Ossuary Temple in Virginia, 1585


Thomas Hariot, A Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia, 1590


Robert Beverley,The History and Present State of Virginia, 1705

George Catlin, a 19th-century successor to John White

George Catlin, Stu-mick-o-súcks, 1832

George Catlin, Self-portrait painting the Mandan Mah-to-toh-pa, 1861/69

Final slide.

Thank You

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