Theodore de Bry's Adam & Eve Engraving from Grands Voyages
Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden
from Part I of Theodore de Bry’s India Occidentalis

by Luke Vavra

By the year 1585 two dozen European explorers, most of them Spanish, had seen the shores or set foot on the New World (America was named after one of them). For his Collected Travels in the East Indies and West Indies (1590–1634), Theodore de Bry republished the accounts of many of those adventurers plus others who had travelled around the globe. De Bry had plenty of material from which to choose. His India Occidentalis, more commonly called the Grands Voyages or the Americas, is one of those “Collected Travels”; it consists of thirteen parts translated into as many as three additional languages and published beginning in 1590. For those thirteen parts of the Americas de Bry created hundreds of engravings to illustrate the explorers, lands, indigenous peoples and significant events.

Part I (Virginia) of the Grands Voyages is based on the English effort to colonize the New World beginning in 1585. The text is from Thomas Hariot’s 1588 A briefe and true report of the new found land of Virginia, and most of the illustrations are based on John White’s watercolors; both men having been sent to that site to accomplish those specific tasks.

This report is not a rehash of the 1585 event; instead, it’s about the book itself: the German edition of Part I of the Grands Voyages. Part I was published in four languages and up to three editions. It was enormously popular and is still highly collectible. I have a copy of the first edition, but I will never understand the text, and simply admiring the illustrations is not enough. I had to dig deeper, hence this report about the 31 copper plates with engravings. The focus is on the engraved plates for Adam and Eve, the Algonquin idol Kiwasa, and the Picts of Great Britain. This report presents aids to the reader in differentiating among the three editions of those 31 plates. It’s about artists, designers, engravers and printing the plates, and about the differences in the supporting narrative from one German edition to another. You will find that much of this report applies to all four language editions. We will use the author’s copy of the German edition for much of this work. The “we” are Luke Vavra and his lap-cat Rusty.

In writing this report, I have asked several questions, some of which I have answered, but some are rhetorical or may never have an answer; the de Brys published the last book of their India Occidentalis series nearly 400 years ago. Occasionally, I draw on the English edition to help me and the reader understand certain titles or text. I have access to one original volume of Part I, but not to the other ten original editions and re-issues of Part I. Instead, I have had to rely on experts in the field for much of the information presented in this paper; those experts are identified by their presence in the bibliography. At the end I finish with an insurmountable task – the current inventory of Part I and its plates in the hands of institutions, private individuals and dealers.

Contents, to be published in four Parts over the coming months:

Part 1: Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden
Part 2: The Plates (and the Idol Kiwasa)
Appendix 2-1. Table of German Plate-identifiers
Part 3: The Picts of Great Britain
Appendix 3-1. Table of Pict Plate-identifiers
Part 4: The Current Inventory of Part I Volumes and Plates
Part 1: Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

In Part I of his Grand Voyages, Theodore de Bry placed an engraving of the biblical Adam and Eve ahead of the engravings of the Algonquin Indians of eastern North Carolina. Why is it first? Why is it even included in a book about the New World? Who was the artist? Those questions are discussed, as are the differences among the three editions of the plate and some of the differences among the three editions of the German Part I volumes published in 1590, 1600 and 1620.
Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden is the subject of a full-page engraved plate showing Eve touching, but not yet grasping, an apple on the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Adam is reaching up with both arms, one touching a limb of the tree, the other the top of his head, which is about to explode. He had been told that he could eat freely from all the trees in the garden except from a tree of the knowledge of good and evil. You know the story. The serpent convinced Eve to give Adam a bite of her apple. Adam ignored God’s admonition, and we are still being punished. In this illustration, both Adam and Eve have long limbs, contorted bodies and small heads.
The serpent Satan, located between them, has the head and upper body of a woman with arms outstretched vertically and lower body coiled around the tree. In the first German edition, the serpent’s tail has longitudinal shading. In the third, the serpent’s tail is cross-hatched. The second edition may still have the longitudinal shading, but no direct information about it was found. See my later argument in the last paragraph of “Attribution” to clear up this matter.

In the right background a man is tending a garden; in the left a woman is holding a child. As shown later, those two seemingly insignificant additions to this engraving may have been added to express its total meaning (see the penultimate paragraph below). Near the base of the tree are a rat, a rabbit and two lions, all living in harmony (Edward Hicks would have loved this image).

The noted bibliographer E .D. Church said the engraving of Adam and Eve is de Bry’s masterpiece (Church, p. 324). Unfortunately, no plate number, title or text is provided for, or on, this seemingly unrelated masterpiece. But is it unrelated?

Why Adam and Eve? Was inclusion of this image an expression of de Bry’s religion (and he was a religious man) or was it a business decision? The de Brys were shrewd marketeers who knew how to motivate buyers. On one hand they aim one version at readers in Catholic countries and readers of Latin - the intelligentsia - academics, scholars and clergy throughout Europe, and on the other hand, aim another version at the Protestants in their principal European languages, such as the German edition. The de Brys had to tweak the text to accommodate those cultural differences and to accommodate the Protestant and Catholic clergy who wielded tremendous power over their peoples, and over publishers such as those of the de Bry house. Theodore de Bry had strong Protestant views; about 1558 he fled his birth-city Liège to avoid further persecution by the Catholic Spanish who controlled that area. Wikipedia indicates he had been sentenced to perpetual banishment and his goods confiscated. The German volumes ended up being geared toward Protestants, the Latin toward Catholics. There was only one edition each of the English and French. The Latin editions presumably sold well in France (van Groesen, Thesis p. 182), diminishing sales of the French.

If you doubt the influence of the Protestant and Catholic churches at that time, consider the huge cathedrals already constructed or under construction: Cologne Cathedral, Notre Dame de Paris, St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican, St. Paul’s in London, Reims Cathedral, Rouen Cathedral and dozens more, often at crippling costs, dominating the countryside and all within it.

Michiel van Groesen wrote about the importance of this plate in his PhD thesis (p.107)

“When readers turned over the first page of the first volume of the collection, they were immediately treated to the first engraving, that of the Fall of man. A powerful and highly recognisable image, the depiction of Adam and Eve was intended to remind readers of the Garden of Eden, which had been forfeited and supplanted by a degenerated world”

What better sales gimmick than to precede the illustrations of the Algonquins with one of Adam and Eve, a plate that has something for nearly everyone embracing the Judeo-Christian and Islamic religions.

No plate number. Why doesn’t it have a plate number? One possibility is that De Bry first engraved the map and the 22 numbered plates about the Algonquin Indians, and that the Adam and Eve plate was an after-thought. As noted before, no plate number, title or text is provided. Editors are strict about setting rules and conforming to them. For all other full-page engravings in the German edition of Part I, de Bry precedes each with descriptive text on the verso of the previous page so the reader can glance from one to the other. In this particular case, the previous page belongs to the Register (the list of engraved plates).

The text page that follows the Adam and Eve plate is a single page called “To the gentle Reader” written in the first person by de Bry, translated into the English version reproduced in Hulton (Thomas Hariot, p. 41). Is it about the Adam and Eve plate? No! Words like Adam, Eve, apple, garden, tree, sin, Satan and Eden do not appear on that page. As Faupel puts it, “…to the gentle Reader helps to explain the author’s religious interpretation of the Indians’ way of life as presented in these engravings:” (Faupel, p. 18), meaning the engravings that follow. In the first third of the English text, de Bry rambles a bit about religion and about the savages having “noe true knowledge of God (our God, not theirs) nor of his holye worde”. In the last two-thirds, de Bry is introducing Richard Hakluyt, John White, Sir Walter Raleigh, Virginia, the French discovery of Florida, engraving the copper plates, and the translation of the original texts into French and Latin. Those are most of the background of Part I and are the preamble to what follows - the map and 22 engravings of the Algonquins.

“Plate I” is sometimes used when describing the Adam and Eve plate, but Plate I in the German language Register of the 23 plates reads: Allgemeine Landtaffel in welcher der ganzen Landschaff Virginie …. Even those of us with extremely limited knowledge of German can see a phrase that does not describe the Adam and Eve plate; instead, it calls for a map of Virginia. The plate list in the English version clearly states: I. The carte of all the coast of Virginia and leaves no doubt. No mention of the Adam and Eve plate is made in the Register. Clearly, the Adam and Eve plate should not be labeled Roman numeral I (one). It would have been simple to engrave or letter-press a number on the Adam and Eve plate, but Roman numeral I was already used in the Register for the map, and de Bry could not move Adam and Eve past the last plate, that is, after Plate XXIII; that would have diminished the importance of the Adam and Eve plate. De Bry seems to have decided no plate number was required, and that master engraver gave his burin a needed rest.

The editions. The Adam and Eve plate was used in all German, Latin, English, and French editions of Part I. It also appears in numerous later parts and editions of the Grands Voyages. The copper plate was used so often that portions had to be re-engraved; this accounts for the cross-hatching of the serpent discussed earlier. After Part I sales figures came in, only Latin and German survived for the remaining parts of the Grands (and Petit) Voyages. Although the German edition was used to prepare this paper, this chapter about Adam and Eve applies, without translation or change, to the other three language editions as well.
Attribution. The copy of Adam and Eve in my book is the first state with the Latin inscriptions "Iodocus a Winghe in" [and] "Theodore de Brÿ fe". The plate was engraved by Theodore de Bry after a design by the Dutch artist Jodocus van Winghe. Theodore died in 1598, and, in the second German edition (1600), de Bry’s son Johann Theodore de Bry changed the signature from “Theodore de Brÿ fe” into “Io. Theodore de Brÿ fe”. Why he made the change is not evident. Was he indicating it was actually he who deserved the credit for the engraving?
Trivia time. The type characters “I” and “J” started out as the same character. Until “J” became better known in the late 1500s, the character “I” was used; so “Io.” is the abbreviation for “Jo.”, as in Johann.

The Latin word “fecit” is a fairly broad term meaning “he/she made it” in English; today it doesn’t necessarily mean Theodore de Bry engraved it, but that is probably what he meant. To avoid that minor problem, de Bry could have used the Latin “Sc” (sculpsit), meaning he/she engraved it, as used by many engravers. The abbreviation “in” located after van Winghe’s name is probably from the Latin word īnscrībere (to write in or on something), or in this past tense situation, īnscrīpsī, “I drew on (the paper)”.

The inscription in the third edition also reads “Io. Theodore de Brÿ fe”.

There are three states of this plate;
State 1 with Theodore de Bry’s signature.
State 2 with Johann Theodore de Bry’s signature.
State 3 with Johann’s signature and the re-touched plate.

Do those states fit neatly into editions one, two and three? Church’s approach to cataloguing is to outline a lot of data in the first edition, and in the second to emphasize changes from the first edition, and similarly from the second to the third. In this case, by remaining silent about any change to the details of the Adam and Eve plate he describes in the first edition, Church is indicating the plate in the second edition is the same as that in the first (except for the de Bry signature). Although seven copies of the second German edition were seen by Church (p. 412), none is readily available to me, so I can’t confirm that. If Church is correct, the re-touched image appears only in the third edition, and the three states can be described consistent with the number of the edition. Johann changed the signature for the second edition, but did not touch-up the plate until the third edition.

The plate artist. Was Jodocus van Winghe known for his characters having “long limbs, contorted bodies and small heads” as Adam and Eve were described earlier? We will find out. To help us do so, the following are quoted from Wikipedia:

”Joos van Winghe, Jodocus a Winghe or Jodocus van Winghen (1544–1603) was a Flemish painter and print designer. He is known for his history paintings, portraits, allegories and genre scenes, including merry companies. He worked in Brussels as court painter and left Flanders after the Fall of Antwerp in 1584. He then worked in Frankfurt for the remainder of his career. In Germany he enjoyed the patronage of Holy Roman emperor Rudolf II and adopted a more clearly Mannerist style.” [Emphasis added.]

“Merry company is the term in art history for a painting, usually from the 17th century, showing a small group of people enjoying themselves, usually seated with drinks, and often music-making. These scenes are a very common type of genre painting of the Dutch Golden Age and Flemish Baroque; it is estimated that nearly two thirds of Dutch genre scenes show people drinking.” [“Merry company” certainly doesn’t apply to Adam and Eve].

“Mannerism is an artistic style that was born in the early 1500s. The style originated in Italy and later widened to all of Europe. Mannerists’ paintings are characterized by elongated limbs, thin aquiline noses, long tapering fingers, undersized heads, garish colors and elaborately mannered, contorted postures.” [Sound familiar? Do you agree that Adam and Eve were designed by a “mannerist”?]
Source of the image. The de Bry firm appears to have created some of the original artwork for engravings in Part I (e.g., Plate XXIII), but mostly they relied on John White and Jacques le Moyne for the drawings or paintings to be engraved. No image similar to van Winghe’s plate of Adam and Eve was found, even after examining digital images of hundreds of engravings and paintings of Adam and Eve by earlier artists and dozens of images of van Winghe’s works. The 1504 engraving by Albrecht Dürer held by National Gallery of Art (left), and the Adam and Eve by Titian, c. 1550 (right) are the closest models found. Dürer has animals at their feet and Adam is at the left and Eve at the right as in de Bry’s engraving.

It is obvious from the differences between White’s water colors and de Bry’s engravings that de Bry had strong ideas about the style and content of the final product, so his tight control may apply to van Winghe’s work. The Adam and Eve may look somewhat different from the drawing or painting provided by van Winghe. For example, at the time of “the eating of the apple” there were no other humans on earth. Yet the de Bry firm, which typically filled-in the background for White and le Moyne, includes the two background figures reminiscent of the Algonquian plates. Would van Winghe have made that mistake? Would de Bry? Or, are those added figures part of an allegory to show what happens next? In the simplistic version of the answer, woman is condemned to have pain at childbirth and man is condemned to a life of hard labor. Van Winghe and De Bry did not err when designing and engraving the plate.

While on the subject of Jodocus van Winghe, it is time to define his role in the process of making the remaining plates for Part I. The first step in the process is creating the original drawings or watercolors (think John White and Jacques le Moyne); the next is making detailed drawings the engraver will use to transfer images to the copper plates; and finally, transferring the images to the copper plates and engraving them (think de Bry). Van Groesen explains that van Winghe was responsible for the intermediate task of making the drawings used by the engraver for all of the plates in Part I (Taschen, p. 16).

Alexander, Michael (Ed.). Discovering the New World based on the works of Theodore De Bry. London: London Editions, 1976. [Excerpts of several languages and volumes, including English.]

Burden, Philip D. The Mapping of America. Rickmansworth: Raleigh Publications, 1996.

Church, Elihu Dwight. A Catalogue of Books Relating to the discovery of North and South America, Forming a Part of Library of E. D. Church. Compiled and annotated George Watson Cole. New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1907. [Essential for a de Bry cataloguer.]

Daniels, Gary C. September 23, 2011. Jacques le Moyne. From The New World website:

De Bry, Theodore. Wunderbarliche, doch warhafftige Erklärung, von der Gelegenheit vnd Sitten der Wilden in Virginia. Frankfurt am Main: Johann Wechel, 1590. [My German copy of Part I.]

Duggan, Lawrence G. No date given. Elector: Prince. Encyclopædia Brittanica. Web site:

Faupel, W. John. A brief and true Report of the new found Land of Virginia: a Study of the De Bry Engravings. Antique Atlas Publications: West Sussex, 1989. [Examines 21 Part I volumes; 87 pages.]

Floyd, Ellen. February 2, 2016. Picts: Facts and History about Mysterious People of Northern Scotland. Ancient Pages.

Hulton, Paul. America 1585: The Complete Drawings of John White, University of North Carolina Press and British Museum Publications, 1984. [38 pages of background text, 76 White watercolors, the Sloane copies, descriptions of the plates and figures; total 213 pages.]

Hulton, Paul. Thomas Hariot A briefe and true report of the new found land of Virginia: The complete 1590 Theodore de Bry edition. New York: Dover Publications, 1972. [Part I, English text and plates; 89 pages.]

Lorant, Stefan (Ed.). The New World: The first Pictures of America made by John White and Jacques Le Moyne…, New York: Duell, Sloan & Pierce, 1946. [Parts I and II, English text and plates.]

Mariner’s Museum Library. A briefe and true report of the new found land of Virginia. Charlottesville and London: University of Virginia Press, 2007. [Part I, Latin text and plates.]

Mark, Joshua J. “Picts”. Ancient History Encyclopedia. Ancient History Encyclopedia. 18 Dec 2014.

van Groesen, Michiel. (2007). The De Bry collection of voyages (1590-1634): editorial strategy and the representations of the overseas world. Amsterdam: in eigen beheer [self-management]. [Groesen’s 2007 PhD thesis, 272 pages plus approximately 100 pages of supporting material. The best reference I found]

van Groesen, Michiel. The De Bry Collection of Voyages (1590-1634): Early America reconsidered. Journal of Early Modern History 12. 1-24, 2008
van Groesen, Michiel (ED.) and Larry E. Wise. Theodore de Bry America: The Complete Plates 1590-1602. Köln: Taschen, 2019. [Reprints of all 218 Latin plates from the first nine volumes of the Grands Voyages.]