First Look:
Interpreting Early European Artistic Renderings of the New World
A Live, Online Professional Development Seminar
We will begin promptly
at 10 a.m.
First Look:
Interpreting Early European Artistic Renderings of the New World
A Live Online Professional Development Seminar
Framing Questions
What is the relationship between art and scientific
observation in John White's watercolors?
What kind of significance would John White's
contemporaries have found in his illustrations?
What impact did White's work have on later generations?
First Look:
Interpreting Early European Artistic Renderings of 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
“Surface and Depth: The Art of Early
American Natural History,” in
Stuffing Birds, Pressing Plants, Shaping
Knowledge: Natural History in North
America 1730-1860
Illustrating the
New World
John White’s
watercolors of Virginia
John White and the Roanoke colony
John White travels to Virginia (presentday 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 Raleigh
de Bry
Thomas Hariot
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
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.
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
Even during White’s time, the tradition of
the monstrous races continued to provide
a model for depicting the inhabitants of
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
Jacques le Moyne in Florida
This engraving by
Theodor de Bry
Indians punishing
their enemies. 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
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.
“Indian of Loranbec,” c. 1586
Bugs of America
John White, Fireflies and biting fly, 1585
Drake Manuscript, Mosquitoes, early 1590s
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 kinds of significance 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.
A Cabinet of Curiosities in Naples, 1599
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.
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
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,
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
Customs of
the Various
Nations of
the Known
World, 1723
John White, An Ossuary
Temple in Virginia, 1585
Thomas Hariot, A
Briefe and True
Report of the
New Found Land
of Virginia, 1590
History and
Present State
of Virginia,
Customs of
the American
with the
Customs of
Times, 1724
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.

Slide 1