Theodore de Bry's Pict Plates from Grands Voyages Part I

Pict Plate II
Pict Plate V
The Picts of Great Britain
from Part I of Theodore de Bry’s India Occidentalis
by Luke Vavra
The Picts. As stated in the title to the section on Picts in Part I of Theodore de Bry’s Grands Voyages, Etliche Contrafeyt der Voelcker genannt Picten die vorzeiten einen Kreisz in Engellandt jnngehabt haben, people known as Picts had inhabited a district in England at an earlier time.

Ellen Lloyd wrote an extensive and impressive article about the Picts, known as “Picti” by the Romans and meaning “Painted Ones” in Latin. Their true identity remains unknown; a portion of Ellen’s article follows:

“It is today generally accepted that the Picts were not a race of one people, but several tribes that united. They were driven by political motivations and a need to ally against common enemies. Where the Picts originally came from remains a mystery.

“According to the Collins Encyclopedia of Scotland, “the Picts did not 'arrive' - in a sense they had always been there, for they were the descendants of the first people to inhabit what eventually became Scotland.” The Picts are often described as the descendants of the indigenous Iron Age people of northern Scotland and it is thought that they came originally from Scandinavia as a cohesive group. Since they left no written record of their history, what is known of them comes from later Roman and Scottish writers and from images the Picts themselves carved on stones.”

The Picts probably lived in Scotland several centuries (or even longer) before the Christian era and existed until absorbed by other peoples by the tenth century AD; by then no current Pict activities were reported in contemporary literature. Joshua Mark indicates the Picts repulsed or at least stopped the invading Romans in a number of engagements, although in one battle they reportedly lost 10,000 warriors (Mark, Web. 01 Oct 2020). It is now believed that the Romans at no time controlled even half of present-day Scotland and that Roman legions ceased to affect the area around 211 AD (Wikipedia).

The Artist for the Pict engravings. The Picts, shown with poses similar to Roman statuary, were engraved by Theodore de Bry whose monogram T.B. appears at the bottom near the plate number. The models for these engravings were originally attributed to John White, but the British Library indicates the basis is watercolors by Jacques le Moyne. That assertion is supported by Paul Hulton who shows a drawing (left) which is said to be an original miniature by le Moyne that de Bry used to create the engraving shown at right of the young Pict woman in Pict Plate III (Hulton, p. xii). The woman and landscape in Plate III closely resemble the miniature. “Le Moyne’s invention of this figure is the basis for the theory that he may have been the first artist of the other four plates” (Hulton, America, p.192). That drawing was once the property of the late collector and philanthropist Paul Mellon; his ownership lends credibility to the authenticity of the drawing. [I had the pleasure of cataloging his antique maps donated to the then Virginia Historical Society.]
Original miniature by le Moyne
Pict Plate III
Although writers, collectors and dealers call this group of five illustrations the “Picts”, Plates IIII and V of the five plates are not illustrations of Picts. Unlike the nude man depicted in Plate I, the man in Plate IIII wears a tunic (the basic garment worn by both men and women in Ancient Rome). His body is neither painted nor tattooed; and the title of the English language plate, The true picture of a man of nation neighbour unto the Picte, reveals he is not a Pict. Similarly, Plate V is a female from a neighboring nation wearing clothes and without paint or tattoos, while the Pict women in Plates II and III are nude and painted. There is the question, “Why are seemingly unrelated plates of a man and a woman, presumably of that period, included with the three plates of Pict people? Is it to show a marked contrast between the Picts and their neighbors? Did the original artist include those two, or were they added by the de Brys?

Shown below are Pict Plate IV at the left and Pict Plate I at the right. Theodore de Bry’s monograph is on both.
Pict Plate IV
Pict Plate I
Theodore de Bry wrote about the author of the plates, as shown in the Pict title page for the English version: “The painter of whom I have had the first of the Inhabitans of Virginia, giue my allso thees 5. Figures followinge, fownd as hy did assured my in a oolld English chronicle…” This statement implies that White was the person who found the chronical and gave the five drawings to de Bry. Was the old English chronical article about le Moyne’s Picts? It’s possible; he lived in London for several years until his death in 1588.

The title page of the English text version concludes with the phrase: “[The Picts were included] to showe how that the Inhabitants of the great Bretainnie haue bin in times past as sauage as those of Virginia.” While the tunic-clothed pair give contrast to the Picts of Great Britain, the Picts themselves offer an interesting comparison to the Native Americans depicted in Part I. Presumably this was added to show the reader that the “savage” Indians would also evolve to more civilized peoples, making Virginia and the New World inhabitable for Europeans.

Identifying the edition. For the first and second editions, the five engraved Pict plates have no title or text on the plate and the verso is blank. The Roman plate number, title and text that accompany each plate are on the verso of the previous page (facing the plate), and the recto of these text pages are blank except for Plate I, for which the recto of the text is the title page for the Picts. This means it is impossible to identify the language and edition if the plate is disbound without its title and text page.

For the third German edition (1620), the word “Virginia” and the plate number and title are above the image and the text is below the image, creating a single page for each engraving. This assures positive identification of the plate even if disbound from the book. The plates must have been redrawn and re-engraved to a smaller scale for this edition in order to accommodate the textual material above and below the engraved image. One indication of this is on Plate III where the Arabic 3 now has a flat top instead of the rounded top on the earlier editions. Theodore de Bry’s initials are on these newly engraved plates along with the Arabic plate number despite the fact that he had died 22 years earlier (1598).

The text is different for every plate in all three editions. For a list of those differences see Appendix 3-1, Table of Pict Plate-Identifiers, below the bibliography.

However there are exceptions. The “Kraus Collection of Sir Francis Drake” in the Library of Congress has a third edition of the German with a Pict I image of a man, but with the Roman plate number, title and text of the woman in Pict II, and the image is visibly askew from the text. There is no Pict II plate in that volume. These are examples of the many errors found in the printing process. It is not surprising that John Faupel, who had studied at least 21 editions, issues and variants of Part I, wrote “the work must have soon grown into a publisher’s nightmare and later editions and issues became little more than bound volumes of miscellaneous descriptive texts from different editions and issues, independently combined with plates from different states” (Faupel, p. 4).
APPENDIX 3-1. Table of Pict Plate Identifiers

The following data for identifying the edition of Pict plates was extracted from my German first edition and from pages 409-412, E. D Church, Catalogue of Books, for the second edition. The table can be used to determine the German edition of disbound Pict plates, if you have the accompanying text on the previous page. As stated earlier, the third edition is clearly distinct from the first two editions having its title and text on the page with the image, so there is no need to include the third edition in this table.


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.]

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.]

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