Early N.C. Images Available Online

The North Carolina Collection is excited to announce the launch of a new online exhibit: Picturing the New World: The Hand-Colored De Bry Engravings of 1590. This site contains high-resolution images from the NCC’s rare, hand-colored edition of Thomas Hariot’s A Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia. These illustrations represent the first images of North Carolina to be published in Europe.

These are striking images, but they are also interesting cultural objects. The engravings, by Theodore De Bry, are based on original watercolors by John White. De Bry took some liberties with the images, especially those of the native inhabitants of the area around Roanoke Island. While White’s drawings are judged to be generally authentic depictions of late 16th-century Native Americans, De Bry’s figures appear with Europeanized features and in poses that reflect classical statuary. The person who colored the volume took it even a step further, adding a pale skin tone and blonde hair to many of the people, and bright, unnatural colors to some of the vegetation.

There is still a strong interest in the original settlements on and around Roanoke Island. Today’s News and Observer has an article about current efforts to determine the site of the original 1585 fort. The De Bry engravings may not be accurate enough to give much help to modern archaeologists, but they are certainly a fascinating example of early European efforts to understand and interpret Native American life and culture.

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