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A New World: England's First View of America…

A New World: England's First View of America

by Kim Sloan, British Museum (Corporate Author), Joyce E. Chaplin (Contributor), Christian F. Feest (Contributor), Ute Kuhlemann (Contributor)1 more, John White (Artist)

Other authors: Neil MacGregor (Director's Foreword)

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A New World: England’s First View of America. By Kim Sloan. With contributions by Joyce E. Chaplin, Christian F. Feest, and Ute Kuhlmann. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, c. 2007. Pp. 256. Paper, $29.95, ISBN 978-0-0878-5825-07; cloth, $60.00, ISBN 978-0-8139-3125-0.)

In a year when events commemorating the four hundredth anniversary of the permanent English settlement at Jamestown are occupying a prominent place in the public eye, these two volumes are a welcome reminder of the importance of the short-lived English settlements at Roanoke in what is now North Carolina. Both books use the well-known watercolors of John White and the copper engravings of White’s paintings made by Theodor de Bry for Thomas Hariot’s 1590 tract A briefe and true report of the new found land of Virginia to examine what the English knew—or thought they knew—about the New World. They are both also useful and informative scholarly inquiries into how Europeans used visual representations of North America’s plants, animals, and people to win support for ongoing colonization efforts. English adventurers and investors, operating under Sir Walter Raleigh’s leadership, made several successive voyages to the Virginia’s shores during the 1580s, with the intention of making money by preying on Spanish treasure shipping. The early Roanoke settlements were primarily military bases intended to hide English privateers, but some investors had a more permanent presence in mind. To that end, Roanoke expeditions (like other English exploratory missions) carried scientists, naturalists, cartographers, and artists to record the land’s inhabitants and its possible commodities.

The participation of gentleman-artist John White in several of these voyages has left us with powerful images of southern coastal Algonkian people, as well as the region’s flora and fauna. Kim Sloan’s A New World: England’s First View of America is a magnificently presented catalogue of White’s watercolors, accompanied by essays meticulously presenting the most recent scholarship on White, his times, and the impact of his famous watercolors. The catalogue itself occupies most of the volume, and includes White’s watercolors, accompanied by the eighteenth-century copies made for Sir Hans Sloane. Sloan is careful to point out changes in the coloring and pigmentation due to water damage and chemical alterations in some of the pigments—the watercolors we now know are probably only a pale shadow of their sixteenth-century selves. The catalogue is also careful to provide context for White’s drawings and their copies by including the work of other European painter-observers of the New World, with the intent of providing “consideration of John White and his artistic milieu” (229). Thus White’s watercolors take their place in the pantheon of early modern natural history illustration and ethnography. The result is a catalogue that is much more sensitive and sophisticated understanding of John White’s art, his times, and his gentlemanly circle. Most usefully, though, the catalogue places different renditions of the watercolors together, allowing for a simultaneous comparison of the different versions.

The opening three essays of the catalogue, all written by editor Kim Sloan, examine White and his techniques. The John White that emerges in this catalogue is a complicated, interesting, and somewhat enigmatic figure. Using new evidence and reevaluating older evidence, Sloan concludes that White “…was a well-educated, well-connected and an accomplished artist.” (33) In exploring her understanding of White, Sloan leads readers through the intricacies of gentlemanly art in the late sixteenth century.

The other essays in the catalogue examine the reception of White’s drawings in Europe. Joyce Chaplin’s contribution on John White’s watercolors as theatre and propaganda rightly notes that English colonists are completely absent from the drawings. White, Chaplin writes, “presented the Indians as if they were performing for an audience.” (58) These theatrical drawings of Indians and their surroundings was a way for White to communicate the fecundity of American land and people to English observers. Christian Feest’s piece examines White’s watercolors in the context of sixteenth and seventeenth-century ethnographic drawing, including those by Hans Staden and Jacque Le Moyne de Morgues. By giving White a thoroughly European context, Feest is able to show that White’s complete scenes of coastal Algonkian life are remarkable and unique. Ute Kuhlemann’s concluding piece follows John White’s watercolors through their second incarnation in Theodor de Bry’s copper engravings accompanying Thomas Hariot’s A briefe and true report of the new found land of Virginia (1590). “These prized volumes,” Kuhlemann writes, “were given highly individualized treatment in the arrangement, display, and colouring of de Bry’s engravings, which were amended according to personal taste and utilized for individual purposes.” (83) Though marketability, rather than accuracy in color and detail, was de Bry’s goal, Europeans still learned much from the engravings.

As Sloan notes in her introduction, some of the essays do provide contradictory interpretations of White and his drawings (8). The overall result, though, is a fascinating set of essays addressing the latest scholarly interpretations of White and the Roanoke venture. The goal of the catalogue is to induce readers to rethink White and his contributions, and in this the volume succeeds admirably. Sloan’s work is an able addition to, and dare one suggest, even a replacement for David Beers Quinn and Paul Hulton’s 1964 two-volume catalogue of the drawings, and an essential addition to libraries.

--Rebecca A. Goetz in the Journal of Southern History, vol. 74, no. 3 (August 2008), 707-709.
  WilliamDorr | Aug 18, 2008 |
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» Add other authors (4 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Sloan, KimAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
British MuseumCorporate Authormain authorall editionsconfirmed
Chaplin, Joyce E.Contributormain authorall editionsconfirmed
Feest, Christian F.Contributormain authorall editionsconfirmed
Kuhlemann, UteContributormain authorall editionsconfirmed
White, JohnArtistmain authorall editionsconfirmed
MacGregor, NeilDirector's Forewordsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0807858250, Paperback)

This beautifully illustrated book reproduces in full the famous and rarely seen British Museum collection of drawings and watercolors made by John White, who in 1585 accompanied a group of English settlers sent by Sir Walter Raleigh to found a colony on Roanoke Island, North Carolina. Sloan's introduction is followed by three specially commissioned essays covering John White himself, the indigenous inhabitants he depicted, and the historical context of his visit. The book explores John White's role as a colonist, surveyor, and artist who not only recorded plants and animals but also provided a window on a now-lost Native American culture and way of life. Oversize, with 185 color illustrations.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:04:22 -0400)

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