- Museum number
A Pictish warrior holding a human head; nude, body stained and painted with birds, animals and serpents carrying shield and man's head, with large curved sword
Watercolour touched with bodycolour and white over graphite
- Production date
Height: 243 millimetres
Width: 170 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- For an introduction to this group of drawings by John White and a list of abbreviations used in the Literature at the end, see curatorial comment for 1906,0509.1.1, the title page inscription to the album.
The following text is taken from K. Sloan, 'A New World: England's First View of America' (London, BM Publications, 2006), pp. 153-55:
[NB. If you use any of the text or information below, please acknowledge the source]
‘SOM PICTVRE, OF THE PICTES WHICH IN THE OLDE TYME DYD HABITE ONE PART OF THE GREAT BRETAINNE’
Immediately after his engraving of ‘The Marckes of sundrye of the Cheif mene of Virginia’ ('America, pt. I, pl. XXIII), Theodor de Bry published an appendix to his illustrated edition of Harriot’s 'Briefe and true report'. He gave two explanations for the inclusion of these images which he stated he had received from John White, ‘fownd as hy did assured my in a oolld English cronicle, the which I wold well sett to the ende of thees first Figures, for to showe how that the Inhabitants of the great Bretannie haue bin in times past as sauuage as those of Virginia’. In the first ‘trvve picture of one Picte’ (Pl. I) he noted ‘In tymes past the Pictes, habitans of one part of great Bretainne, which is nowe nammed England, wear sauuages, and did paint all their bodye after the maner followinge . . . And when they hath ouercomme some of their ennemis, they did neuer felle to carye a we their heads with them.’ Their women ‘wear noe worser for the warres than the men’.
As Joyce Chaplin has commented in Chapter 4, White’s fantastically painted warriors and Harriot’s captions written for them seemed to be indicating that the English should have no fear of the North Carolina Algonquians, since they were much more civilized than the earlier inhabitants of Britain itself. The Indians were partially clothed, not naked, and decoratively tattooed and painted their bodies with patterns resembling gilding on armour or with identifying marks of their ‘Princes’ (similar to a badge, emblem or coat of arms), rather than painting themselves all over as ancient Picts had done. The contemporary English historian John Speed argued that the name Pict meant ‘painted or stained’ and believed that they went naked so as not to cover up their ‘painting and damasking’ which made them look more terrible in war. The Picts took heads as trophies, and they and their neighbours, men and women, bristled with weapons.
The phrases ‘Brytish Empire’ and ‘Greate Briteigne’ were beginning to be used with more regularity during this period, with Elizabeth claiming sovereignty over England, France, Ireland and Virginia. There has been a great deal of debate concerning how much the Picts and their neighbours represented by White, Harriot and de Bry were intended to refer to the Scots or to the ‘wild and savage’ Catholic Irish whom the English were currently attempting to evict and subdue in order to plant English settlers on Irish land that Queen Elizabeth claimed to rule. The English had been no less savage themselves in these attempts, with Humphry Gilbert lining the path to his tent with Irish heads and books published with illustrations celebrating similar grisly victories. Andrew Hadfield (p. 175) has noted: ‘It was a commonplace that Ireland was at the same stage of development as England had been when conquered by the Romans, the invaders in each case providing much needed law, order, and civilization.’ If the Picts represented the Scots or drew parallels with the Irish, then history was reassuring, as the English would provide the same civilizing process for the Indians as the Romans had done for them and they would have a much easier time of it, as White’s images of the Indians indicated they were already a civic society with their own organized government, agricultural society and religion.
Lit.: For Indians and Picts see Piggott, pp. 73–85, and Kupperman 2000, pp. 59–62. For Scots, Irish and Picts, most recently see Miller 1998, pp. 50–85, David Armitage, ‘Making the empire British: Scotland in the Atlantic world 1542–1707’, chapter VIII in Armitage 2004), pp. 39–45, and Andrew Hadfield, ‘Irish colonies and the Americas’, in Applebaum and Sweet, pp. 172–91
No. 24 A Pictish warrior holding a human head:
John White was not the first to depict ancient Picts or Inuit in watercolour in England; Lucas de Heere made drawings of Stonehenge and of ancient Britons when he visited London in 1575 and drew the Inuit brought there by Frobisher the following year. De Heere was part of a circle of Dutch and Flemish Protestant refugees in London in the 1560s and 1570s with a larger circle of correspondents on the continent, which included Ortelius, the publisher Christopher Plantin, the botanist Clusius and many artists – Ketel, Gheeraerts, de Critz, Hoefnagel and Hogenberg. They were all well known to John Dee, Philip Sidney and other members of their circle, including William Camden. Ortelius, in London in 1577 to learn about Frobisher’s voyages, persuaded Camden to write his history of Britain. It was undoubtedly in this milieu in the mid-1570s and on the receipt of a commission to paint a gallery of costumes of different nations that de Heere was inspired to create the two albums of watercolours of people of ancient and modern Britain that are now in the British Library (with a Dutch description) (see fig. 95) and the University Library of Ghent (in French). Both included drawings drawn from life, from prints and possibly from early manuscripts, and both included images of Irish and of ancient Picts, described as ‘les premiers Anglois comme ils alloyent en guerre du tems du Julius Cesar’.
The title of the Dutch manuscript in the British Library translates as a ‘Short Description of England, Scotland and Ireland’ and is followed by a ‘Short Description of the English Histories Compiled from the Best of Authors’. The latter may have provided the source for White’s images of the Picts. De Heere’s and White’s Picts are not identical but are similar enough to make one wonder whether they knew each other or at least shared a common source – White’s ‘oolld English cronicle’ (see above), which was probably a fairly explicit description or manuscript illustration in a classical source. Stuart Piggott has argued that the captions for this group of engravings in de Bry’s publication (which may have been written by de Bry, Harriot or White) seem to cite descriptions from two Greek authorities, Herodian (fl. AD 235) and Dio Cassius (AD 160–230), on the Severan campaigns against the Caledonii and Maetae of North Britain in AD 208–9. These texts were available to scholars: John Stow published a Summarie of Englyshe Chronicles in 1565 and William Camden printed them in full in his Britannia of 1586. Herodian mentions the iron torcs, the sword chain is mentioned by Diodorus Siculus, and the narrow oval shield, twisted torcs, nakedness, head-hunting and body painting are all described. Herodian wrote: ‘They paint their bodies with sundry colours, with all kinds of animals represented in them.’
It is also worth noting that the paintings and tattoos on this Pict in particular resemble some of the more elaborate sculpted and gilded decorations on court armour of the period, which employed similar fantastic beasts on shoulders, helmets and breastplates.
Engraved by de Bry, 'America', I, Pictes, pl. I:‘The truue picture of one Picte’
Lit.: LB 1(25); ECM 67; PH&DBQ 124, PH 65; for Flemish in London see J. A. van Dorsten, The Radical Arts: First Decade of an Elizabethan Renaissance, Oxford, 1970, pp. 15–54; Hearn, pp. 117, 154; and Meganck 2004, passim; for ancient sources see Piggott, pp. 74–85, and J. A. Bakker, ‘Lucas de Heere’s Stonehenge’, Antiquity 53, 1979, pp. 107–11
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1964 Apr 6-May 31, America Embassy, 'The John White Exhibition'
1965 Jan 30-Feb 22, NGC, Washington, John White, no.95
1965 26 Feb-14 Mar, NC Mus of Art, Raleigh, John White, no. 95
1965 17 Mar-5 Apr, NY, Pierpont Morgan Libr, John White, no. 95
2000/1 Dec-Feb, BM Great Court, 'Human Image'
2007 Mar-Jun, BM, 'A New World:...', no.30
2007/8 Oct-Jan, Raleigh, North Carolina Mus of History, 'A New World:...'
2008 Mar-Jun, New Haven, Yale Center for British Art, 'A New World:...'
2008 Jul-Oct, Williamsburg, Jamestown Settlement, 'A New World:...'
2012 London, BM, Shakespeare
- Associated titles
Associated Title: America
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- The provenance given above refers to the moment when the album of drawings connected with John White was purchased by the Department of Manuscripts in what is now the British Library. The album was transferred to the Department of Prints and Drawings in 1906, where it was assigned new register numbers.
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number