De BRY, Johann Theodor, (1560-1623) and Johann Israel de Bry (1565-1609). Part III, Plate 29, How a Horrible and Brutal Great Bear Ripped Apart Two of Our Journeymen. From the "Little Voyages"

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De BRY, Johann Theodor, (1560-1623) and Johann Israel de Bry (1565-1609). Part III, Plate 29, How a Horrible and Brutal Great Bear Ripped Apart Two of Our Journeymen. From the "Little Voyages"


Plate XXIX, Wie ein erschrectlicher grausamer
From Part III of Johann Theodor de Bry (1561-1623) and Johann Isreal de Bry's (1565-1609) Orientalische Indien (“Little Voyages”), Dritter Theil indiae orientalis...Frankfurt: 1599 (first edition)
Engraving with original, early 17th century hand color heightened with gold on laid paper; paper dimensions: approximately: 11 1/2 x 7 1/2 inches
Printed by Matthias Becker
van Groesen 52

On September 6, 1595, during his second journey in search of a passage to Asia, Barents called at States Island, a small island south of Vaygach. At this point they were well on their passage through Vaygach, in search of the Tartar Sea (or Kara Sea).

On States Island two of Barents' men searched for rock-crystal, which they called 'gold pebbles' (see the man with tool in the foreground). One of them was attacked from behind by a bear. The other did not noticeat first and asked calmly what the problem was. By then it was too late - the polar bear had killed its prey and started to tear him to pieces. Others rushed to their aid but were unable to stop the bear from attacking another from the group and dragging him off. One of their comrades was devoured alive before their eyes. Their first reaction was to flee, which we see in the middle of the illustration. Three of the Dutch tried to save their fellow seaman, or to kill the bear in any event. We see this in the fore- ground of the engraving. The illustration depicts two separate scenes therefore, just as in a comic book. After a long fight, and after two men had already been killedbythe bear,  the beastwas finally overpowered. The only triumph was his hide, which was brought on board to take with them to Amsterdam. The bodies of the two men were buried on States Island.

In the background we see the seven ships that set off on the second attempt to reach Asia via the North Pole: two from Amsterdam, two from Zeeland, two from Enkhuizen and one from Rotterdam. On September 15, just over a week after the incident with the hungry bears, Barents decided to start the return journey to the Dutch Republic because of the advancing ice. He had first planned to spend the winter there in order to immediately continue to Asia in the spring, but the other captains did not agree with this plan. There was much division among the men and disheartened they turned their ships homeward, separately.*

Title: How a horrible and brutal great bear ripped apart two of our journeymen

Text: After we came to an island/ named by us the Standen island our crewmen found on the illustrated island pebbles that looked like diamonds thus they were searching for them everywhere. But when two of them began searching in a pit a horrible lean bear approached skulking grabbed one by the throat who therefore screamed out loud and questioned who was attacking him the other looked up saw the bear and fled shouted to his companion it is a bear thus 20 crewmen ran up to rescue their fellow but he already slaughtered him but they still beat the bear. He ran up to them and caught another one and slaughtered him immediately. But finally they killed this bear skinned him and brought him to Amsterdam.


Documenting Gerrit de Veer's Journal of Three Dutch voyages to reach the East Indies by the North (1594- 1597).


In 1596 helmsman Willem Barents undertook a third attempt to reach Asia from the Netherlands by sailing via the North Pole. There was reportedly a large open sea beyond the island of Novaya Zemlya. Once you passed this, and headed back to the south, you would presumably emerge near Japan and China.

Barents' first attempt involved navigating along the northern side of Novaya Zemlya, the second along the southern side of that island, via Vaygach. Both attempts had to be abandoned because of the advancing ice.

While seven ships full of merchandise had sailed during the second journey, now for the third attempt, the expedition was more prudent: the main concern was exploring the sea route, trade was  secondary. Only two  ships, both from Amsterdam, sailed on May 18, 1596, this time once again via the northern side of Novaya Zemlya.

Willem Barents was helmsman on the ship captained by 29-year-old Jacob  van  Heemskerck. Captain of the second ship was merchant Jan Cornelisz Rijp. Barents and Rijp soon clashed over the route to follow. The northern route championed by Rijp, which had also been indicated by cartographer Plancius, won out. Although they discovered two islands, Bear Island and Spitsbergen, the first leg was a failure. They came up against an impenetrable layer of ice. Barents wanted to fol- low the northeasterly route. Rijp wasn't interested and went his own way. When he once again hit pack ice, he turned homeward. Barents and Heemskerck headed towards the northern point of Novaya Zemlya. The expedition was to be a disaster, but thanks to the spectacular overwintering of Willem Barents and his crew, under abominable conditions, this journey took on epic proportions in the illustrious history of exploration.

Not long after the return of the survivors in 1598, the story of the adventure was published, penned by Gerrit de Veer, who had been on both the second and third journey with Barents.*


*Research provided by Martine Gosselink, head of the History department at the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, Netherlands.

**Translated from original German by Karl Nesseler.

Description compiled by Erik Brockett who is pleased to provide additional information relating to this or other examples of the work of Johann Theodor de Bry available at Arader Galleries. He can be contacted at

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