Two different views of the city of Olinda on the east coast of Brazil in the province of Pernambuco, drawn from De Bry.
The settlement of Olinda was founded in 1535 by Duarte Coelho Pereira. Olinda became a town on March 12, 1537. It was made the seat of the Territorial Prelature of Pernambuco in 1614, becoming the Diocese of Olinda in 1676. The economy of the region was dominated by the production of sugarcane. The importation of slaves from Africa to support the economy made Olinda a colonial stronghold. By 1600 its economy was based on sugar, and imported African slave labor had made it a colonial stronghold.
Olinda was the capital of the hereditary captaincy of Pernambuco, but was burned by Dutch invaders. In the 17th century the Kingdom of Portugal was united with Spain (the 1580-1640 Iberian Union period). Taking advantage of this period of Portuguese weakness, the area around Olinda and Recife was occupied by the Dutch who gained access to the Portuguese sugarcane plantations.
John Maurice, Prince of Nassau-Siegen, was appointed as the governor of the Dutch possessions in Brazil, in 1637, by the Dutch West India Company. He landed at Recife, the port of Pernambuco and the chief stronghold of the Dutch, in January 1637. By a series of successful expeditions, he gradually extended the Dutch possessions from Sergipe on the south to São Luís de Maranhão in the north. He likewise conquered the Portuguese possessions of Saint George del Mina, Saint Thomas, and Luanda, Angola, on the west coast of Africa.
After the dissolution of the Iberian Union in 1640, Portugal would re-establish its authority over the lost territories of the Portuguese Empire, including Brazil.
Theodor de Bry (1528-1598) was a prominent Flemish engraver and publisher best known for his engravings of the New World. Born in Liege, de Bry hailed from the portion of Flanders then controlled by Spain. The de Brys were a family of jewelers and engravers, and young Theodor was trained in those artisanal trades.
As a Lutheran, however, his life and livelihood were threatened when the Spanish Inquisition cracked down on non-Catholics. De Bry was banished and his goods seized in 1570. He fled to Strasbourg, where he studied under the Huguenot engraver Etienne Delaune. He also traveled to Antwerp, London, and Frankfurt, where he settled with his family.
In 1590, de Bry began to publish his Les Grands Voyages, which would eventually stretch to thirty volumes released by de Bry and his two sons. The volumes contained not only important engraved images of the New World, the first many had seen of the geographic novelties, but also several important maps. He also published a collection focused on India Orientalis. Les Grands Voyages was published in German, Latin, French, and English, extending de Bry’s fame and his view of the New World.
Mathaus Merian (1593-1650) was the father of engraver Matthäus the Younger, and of the painter, engraver, and naturalist Maria Sibylla Merian. He was born in Basel, Switzerland and trained in engraving in Zurich. After a time in Nancy, Paris and Strasbourg, he settled in Frankfurt. While there, he worked for Johann Theodor de Bry, the publisher and son of the travel writer. In 1617, he married Maria Magdalena de Bry, Johann Theodor’s daughter. In 1623, Merian took over the de Bry publishing house upon the death of his father-in-law. Merian’s best known works are detailed town views which, due to their accuracy and artistry, form a valuable record of European urban life in the first half of the sixteenth century