Theodore de Bry
Theodor de Bry (1528 – 1598) was a Flemish engraver, goldsmith, and publisher from Liège in the Spanish Low Countries (today Belgium). Being a Calvinist protestant, De Bry was sentenced to perpetual banishment in 1570 and forced to flee the Spanish-controlled Netherlands to avoid further persecution by the Inquisition. He moved from place to place, staying within the confines of Protestant Europe and working from cities like Strasbourg (1570-77), Antwerp (1577-1585), and London (1585-88) until he finally settled down more permanently in Frankfurt in 1588. In London, De Bry met Richard Hakluyt and developed a similar interest in the great voyages of discovery that characterized the age.
Having come from a line of highly skilled engravers and jewelers, Theodore De Bry was a bit of a polymath, dabbling proficiently in several different fields but none as successfully as in printing and publishing. He edited and published numerous works, many of which would become hugely popular, and was especially renowned for the vivacious grace of his illustrations, which in many cases depicted things and ideas to which European audiences had never before been exposed.
Most of De Bry’s books were about the early European expeditions to America (both North and South). Acting primarily as a compiler of information, De Bry relied heavily on first-hand observations by explorers, seamen, and conquistadors. While tall tales attracted their fair share of attention, it was especially De Bry’s detailed illustrations of the first expeditions to America (both north and South) that captivated peoples’ imaginations and propelled his work into the highest literary circles of late 16th-century society.
De Bry set up his business in Frankfurt with his sons, who inherited it after their father’s death. In 1626, De Bry’s grandson-in-law, the Swiss engraver Mathäus Merian, took over the firm. Because the De Bry firm was multi-generational and the engraved illustrations they published were rarely signed, many of the plates have been attributed to Theodor posthumously.
The most famous publication issued by De Bry was a series of volumes entitled 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. Of the 13 books, I to VI were edited and illustrated by Theodor de Bry himself, while books VII to XII were edited and engraved by his sons, Johann Theodor and Johann Israel De Bry, and book XIII was engraved and published by Mathäus Merian. Book IV is perhaps the most famous of the thirteen volumes, as this deals with North America. The books provided the first detailed illustrations of the New World. To make these as realistic as possible, De Bry would use original paintings and watercolors by pioneers like Roanoke’s colonial governor and mapmaker John White or the French explorer and artist Jacques le Moyne de Morgue.