Rare Book Monthly

Articles - July - 2019 Issue

Theodore De Bry & the Bodmer Project! A Complete digitized tour of the World...

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For the first time ever, a complete collection of Theodore de Bry’s Voyages—‘Great’ and ‘Small’—is available online! These 29 volumes published between 1590 and 1634 are, with their extraordinary illustrations, a landmark in the field of travel books! They’ve just been digitized by the Bodmer Foundation*, in Switzerland.

 

Theodore de Bry (1528-1598) was a Protestant drawer, printer and engraver from Frankfort, Germany. Nowadays, his name is associated with one of the most outstanding collections of voyages ever. It is divided into the “Grands Voyages" (America) and the “Petits Voyages” (Africa and Asia). It took him more than 40 years to put it together. “Actually, Theodore is only responsible for the first six volumes of the Grands Voyages,” Matthieu Bernhardt says. Bernhardt is a Professor at the University of Geneva, Switzerland, and he’s been piloting this project initiated by the Bodmer Foundation. “When Theodore died, his two sons Jean Theodore and Jean Israel—and after them, their sons-in-law—completed the project. These books were very expensive and reserved to a happy few.” They are even more expensive today—and very rare, especially the complete sets. So far, the Library of Congress, in Washington, offered the most complete digitized copy in the world—“but they are missing 3 or 4 volumes,” Bernhardt underlines. “Ours, which is the Latin edition and not the German one, is complete.” It is, nonetheless, a recomposed set with mismatched bindings.

 

The Bodmer Foundation wishes to touch as wide an audience as possible, and the website dedicated to this project was put together by a professional designer. The opening page is very exciting as several vignettes are placed over a map of the New World—taken from the collection. When you click on them, you are granted access to the scanned pages of the books. Actually, these are more photographs than scans—the colour and defects of the physical books are faithfully rendered; only the smell of paper is missing. Unfortunately, to leaf through a physical De Bry remains a privilege granted to a “happy few”. Matthieu Bernhardt himself had to wait for this project to become one. He laughs: “It was a moving first time, indeed.”

 

Vespucci, Herrera, Gomara, Benzoni... The works of these authors are classics. Yet, they were already available when De Bry compiled them. “The only original text of the collection is the relation of Johan Verken’s travel to the East Indies, in the Petits Voyages,” Bernhardt says. In fact, the true interest of this collection lies not exactly in the texts—but in the engravings. I do not know how ‘wide’ the Latin-speaking audience is for such a project—but it doesn’t really matter. When you go through these documents, you’re simply tracking down the illustrations, like a kid with his first book. There are more than 600 copper plates, including portraits, maps and historical scenes—they were, at the time, of unchallenged quality. “They are fascinating. First because they are copper plates, very clean-cut; then because they almost depict the whole known world of the 16th century!” Bernhardt studied them thoroughly. “When De Bry first decided to publish Benzoni’s relation of the New World, he had no illustration. Thus, he created 60 plates following Benzoni’s text. In fact, out of the 600 plates of the full collection, half were creations. The rest were updates from already existing illustrations—most of the time raw woodcuts. It’s interesting to note that the quality of the engravings dropped after Theodore’s deathprobably because the project grew too big too fast.”

 

These illustrations shaped the vision that Europeans had of the rest of the world. They are particularly striking—especially the dreadful scenes of massacre of Native Americans. “These plates are controverted! De Bry clearly insists on the massacres committed by the Catholics while minimizing those committed by the Protestants, in Florida or Virginia for instance.” At the end of the 16th century, images already meant power! And De Bry was a powerful engraver. In 2019, as true scenes of violence are becoming unfortunately too common, the reading of Las Casas’ relation of the “destruction of the Indies by the Spaniards” remains a traumatizing experience—partly because of the breath-taking 400-year old plates of Theodore de Bry! When a Native-American—whose nose, ears, lips and hands, have just been cut off by a laughing Spaniard—runs away from his tyrant, his cry of pain and despair pierces the paper to reach our ears! And when another Spaniard is about to crush a Native American baby against the rock, we look away in fear! Curiously, Las Casas’ work is not included in the Great Voyages, although De Bry published and illustrated it separately. “This is indeed the great mystery about this collection!” Bernhardt wonders. Anyway, the other illustrations are of the same vein. “You can see specific clothes of many overseas peoples,” Jérôme David from the Bodmer Foundation states, “including to Algonquians from Virginia—there are nine full portraits that show that each social position matched with a particular garment. Furthermore, these illustrations are extremely varied: maps, bestiaries and portraits have captured old cultural practices such as cannibal rituals of the Tupinambà in Brazil, elephant hunt in Pegu (current Burma) or the sacrifice of widows in India.” They thus can be regarded as sociological documents—although De Bry never set a foot in the New World!

 

It took the De Brys more than 40 years to publish this collection—and 3 years for the Bodmer Foundation to digitize it (bodmerlab.unige.ch/recits-et-images/debry/#/grands-voyages/Preface). Reading these books, even through a computer, is a unique intellectual and visual experience. You will feel like touring a vanished world in 29 volumes—a great voyage, indeed.

 

 

Thibault Ehrengardt

 

 

* The Bodmer Foundation is a library and museum specialised in manuscripts and precious editions. It is located in Cologny, Switzerland, near Geneva. It was founded in 1971 and is classified by the UNESCO.

 

Additional DeBry illustrations can be seen on each of the following pages. Click the images to enlarge them.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Francis Scott Key, <i>Star Spangled Banner,</i> first printing, c. 1814-16. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> William Sydney Porter, a.k.a. “O. Henry,” archive of drawings made to illustrate a lost mining memoir, c. 1883-84. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> [Bay Psalm Book], printed for Hezekiah Usher of Boston, Cambridge, c. 1648-65. $50,000 to $75,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Book of Mormon, first edition, Palmyra, 1830. $40,000 to $60,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> <i>Noticia estraordinario,</i> probable first announcement in Mexico City of the fall of the Alamo, 1836. $40,000 to $60,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Patrick Gass, first edition of earliest first-hand account of the Lewis and Clarke expedition, Pittsburgh, 1807. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Diploma from the Princeton Class of 1783, commencement attended by Washington & Continental Congress. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> <i>Sprague Light Cavalry!</i> color-printed broadside, NY, 1863. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> <i>The Lincoln & Johnson Union Campaign Songster,</i> Philadelphia, 1864. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Lucy Parsons, labor organizer, albumen cabinet card, New York, 1886. $800 to $1,200.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Daniel L.F. Swift, journal as third mate on a Pacific Whaling voyage, 1848-1850. $3,000 to $4,0000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Two photos of Thomas Moran, Grand Canyon, silver prints, 1901. $1,500 to $2,500.
  • <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Helvelius. Two Autograph Letters Signed to Francis Aston, Royal Society Secretary, noting his feud with Robert Hooke, 5 pp total, 1685. $70,000 to $100,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Newton, Isaac. Autograph manuscript on God, 4 pp, c.1710, "In the beginning was the Word...."?$100,000 to $150,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. First edition, first issue. Untrimmed copy in contemporary boards. $30,000 to $50,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Lincoln, Abraham. Signed photograph, beardless portrait with Civil War provenance. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> IMPEACHMENT. Original engrossed copy of the first Andrew Johnson impeachment resolution vote. $120,000 to $180,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Mucha, Alphonse. 11 original pencil drawings for?<i>Andelicek z Baroku,</i> "Litte Baroque Angel," Prague, 1929. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Einstein, Albert. Annotated Galley Proofs for <i>The Meaning of Relativity.</i> 1921. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Silverstein, Shel. Original maquette for <i>The Giving Tree,</i> 34 original drawings. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Roth, Philip. Typed Manuscript with substantial autograph corrections for an unpublished sequel to <i>The Breast.</i> $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Taupin, Bernie. Autograph Manuscript, the original draft of lyrics for Elton John's "Candle in the Wind," 2 pp, 1973. $100,000 to $150,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> HARVEY, WILLIAM. <i>De Motu Cordis et Sanguinis in Animalibus Anatomica Exercitatio.</i> Padua: 1643. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> CESALPINO, ANDREA. <i>Peripateticarum Quaestionum Libri Quinque.</i> Venice: 1571. $30,000 to $40,000.
  • <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> Leon TOLSTOÏ. <i>Anna Karenina.</i> Moscou, 1878. First and full edition of the Russian novel, in the author’s language.<br>Est. 3 000 / 4 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> Mark TWAIN. <i>Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Tom Sawyer's comrade).</i> New York, 1885. First American edition.<br>Est. 5 000 / 6 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> Walt WHITMAN. <i>Leaves of Grass.</i> Brooklyn, New York, 1856. Second edition gathering 32 poems. Est. 3 000 / 4 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> Karen BLIXEN. <i>Out of Africa.</i> Londres, 1937. First edition in the UK, before Danish translation and American release.<br>Est. 1 500 / 2 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> Ernest HEMINGWAY. <i>A Farewell to Arms.</i> New York, 1929. First edition with $2.50 on the dust and A on the copyright page.<br>Est. 2 000 / 3 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> James JOYCE. <i>Ulysses.</i> Paris, Shakespeare and Company, 1922. First edition published by Sylvia Beach. Est. 3 000 / 4 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> James JOYCE. <i>Dubliners.</i> Londres, 1914. First edition. Nice copy in publisher’s cardboard. Est. 2 000 / 3 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> Franz KAFKA. 8 novels in German first edition, published in München, Leipzig and Berlin 1916-1931. Est. from 300 / 400 to 2 000 / 3 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> David Herbert LAWRENCE. <i>Lady Chatterley's Lover.</i> Florence, 1928. Privately printed first edition. Est. 4 000 / 5 000 €
    John STEINBECK. <i>The Grapes of Wrath.</i> New York, 1939. First edition. Nice copy with $2.75 on the cover. Est. 1 000 / 1 200 €

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