16th-century engraved image showing a Virginian aboriginal priest from the Secota. The image shows two priests from a Virginian Indian town in conversation before a backdrop of fishing and hunting grounds.
This engraving is faithfully reproduced from the painting by John White entitled One of Their Religious Men. White was part of an important British expedition to the region. In April of 1585, he was sent along with a colonization effort to the newly named colony of Virginia, led by Sir Richard Grenville. A fort was constructed, and small parties were sent out to explore the area, including the scientist and surveyor Thomas Hariot and John White, as the artist. White sketched several drawings and, with Harriot, began preparing a manuscript map of the areas visited, although the Roanoake Colony soon failed and Sir Francis Drake took home the surviving colonists in June 1586.
This engraving was originally published as part of De Bry's Grands Voyages, one of the most important travel accounts of the 16th century. De Bry includes, in his accounts, some of the earliest depictions and descriptions of the Indians that French and English travelers encountered in the present-day United States.
The descriptive text below the plate reads:
The priests of the aforesaid town of Secota are well stricken in years and it seems of more experience than the common sort. They wear their hair cut like a crest on top of their heads as others do but the rest is cut short, save that which grows about their foreheads in the manner of a periwig. They also have something hanging in their ears. They wear a short cloak made of fine hares' skins, quilted with the hair outward. The rest of their body is naked. They are notable enchanters and for their pleasure they frequent the rivers to kill with their bows and catch wild ducks, swans, and other fowl.
This is the first edition of the print, with the signature A3 under the last two words of the text.
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.