Rare Original 16th Century Engraving of Timucuan Indians Hunting Alligators By Theodor de Bry

CC-0463 – Rare Original 16th Century Engraving of Timucuan Indians Hunting Alligators By Theodor de Bry
Cartographer: Theodor de Bry
Published: 1591
Dimensions: 9-1/2″ W x 13-3/4″ H

Condition: The preservation of this piece is very good, especially considering the document is over 400 years old. The paper shows typical signs of age with a small notch out of the paper at the far left edge where the page was removed from the binding, which could be covered with a frame. The coloring is original, vibrant, and in very good condition.

Description: 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.

This amazing illustration is a beautiful hand colored rendition of Timucuan Indians hunting alligators.

The image from De Bry’s Grand Voyages is a striking and evocative visual account of the struggles and tenacity of the Timucuan Indians, a native tribe of northeastern Florida. This engraving, rendered with meticulous detail, tells a vivid story of the tribe’s daily battles and the perils they faced in their environment.

Amidst the verdant landscape of Northeastern Florida, De Bry’s Grand Voyages presents a gripping tableau that showcases the life-and-death struggle of the Timucuan Indians against the formidable alligators.

The scene shows a hut at the top left, deliberately constructed with cracks and holes, standing close to a river. This hut serves as a strategic watchpoint. Inside, a vigilant watchman stands guard. His task is pivotal: to detect the approach of crocodiles, creatures that, when hungry, emerge from the waterways and islands in search of prey.

The watchman, sensing the impending danger, swiftly calls upon a group of defenders. These ten or twelve warriors, equipped with long wooden logs, display a remarkable blend of courage and strategy. They move in tandem towards the crocodile, a massive beast with a gaping maw ready to snatch any approaching threat. Yet the warriors, with adept precision, insert the slender end of their log deep into the creature’s open mouth. The log, with its rough bark and uneven structure, is lodged so firmly that the crocodile cannot free itself.

As the drama unfolds, another group of Indians flips the now incapacitated crocodile onto its back, revealing its softer underbelly. With sharp spears and arrows, they pierce through the skin, neutralizing the threat. Their tactic avoids the alligator’s back, a fortress of impenetrable scales, especially noticeable in older specimens.

De Bry’s depiction is more than a mere hunt; it’s a testament to the Timucuan Indians’ ingenuity, resilience, and communal spirit. The alligators of Florida were a persistent threat and forced the tribe to remain ever watchful, day and night. The image is a powerful allegory of survival, strategy, and the eternal human spirit to overcome nature’s challenges. For more information on the Timucuan Indians click here.

The approximate translation of the Classical Latin text reads:

“Method of Preparing Crocodiles”

Crocodiles wage war in this manner: they create a hut full of cracks and holes near a river, in which a watchman, who can spot and hear Crocodiles from afar, resides. Driven by hunger, they crawl out of rivers and islands in search of prey. When they don’t find any, they let out such a terrifying roar that it can be heard over half a mile away. Then the watchman calls guards prepared for this: ten or twelve of them, seizing a long tree, proceed towards this massive creature (with its gaping mouth, if it could grab any of them approaching) and with utmost agility they drive the thinner part of the tree as deeply as possible into its mouth, so that due to its unevenness and the roughness of the bark, it cannot be removed. Turning the crocodile onto its back, they strike and open its belly, which is softer, with spears and arrows; for the back, being covered with hard scales, is impenetrable, especially if the crocodile is old. This is the method the Indians use to hunt Crocodiles, by which they are so bothered that they are forced to keep watch both day and night, just as we do against our most bitter enemies.

This is a highly sought after piece with great subject matter and extremely difficult to find in good condition!

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