Theodor De Bry's Grand Voyages

Theodor De Bry is best known for his wonderful series of volumes chronicling many of the earliest expeditions to the Americas.  De Bry, a Frankfurt goldsmith, engraver, print-seller and book-seller, started the project in 1590 when he reissued Thomas Hariot’s narration of the first English settlement in “Virginia.”  This volume, to which De Bry added illustrations, was a success and it was followed the next year by a similar volume on the first French attempt at colonizing Florida.  From then until his death in 1598, De Bry published other illustrated volumes and the series was continued until 1634 by his family, extending to 25 parts and including voyages to Asia as well as the Americas.

Each volume of the De Bry series was accompanied by graphic illustrations of the events, many made from first hand observations. These very rare prints are some of the earliest authentic images of the New World, for previous accounts either contained no illustrations or their images were crude and mostly imaginary. Thus, De Bry’s prints provide an important contemporary view of the history of the nascent days of European conquest and settlement in America. The pictures show detailed scenes of native customs, culture and warfare, and episodes in the history of European contact with these natives and their world. As Michael Alexander said, De Bry’s work “brought to the European public the first realistic visualization of the exotic world opened up across the Atlantic by the explorers, conquerors and settlers.” (Discovering the New World, p. 7)