The German scholar Georg Marcgraf was the first trained astronomer in the New World and co-author of the earliest published natural history of Brazil, Historia naturalis Brasiliae (Leiden and Amsterdam 1648) (Fig. 1). Arriving in the Americas in 1638, Marcgraf took his place among a remarkable group of scholars and painters assembled at the Brazilian court of the German count Johan Maurits van Nassau-Siegen (1604–1679), the governor-general of Dutch Brazil from 1637–1644.1 Dutch Brazil was established by the Dutch West India Company (WIC), which was created in 1621 to engage in trade, conquest, and colonisation in the Americas and Africa. Except for Marcgraf, the most important members of the Count's entourage were Dutch and included the painters Albert Eckhout (c. 1610 - c. 1666) and Frans Post (1612–1680) and the physician Willem Piso (1611–1678). The rich group of scientific and visual materials they created are comparable in both scope and importance with the works created by Sydney Parkinson, William Hodges, and others during the Pacific voyages of Captain Cook in the eighteenth century.2 The Count's support of natural history, astronomy, and scientific and ethnographic illustration during his governorship was highly unusual, setting him apart from other colonial administrators and military leaders in the seventeenth century. Indeed, he is responsible for establishing both the first observatory and the first botanical garden in the New World, sparing no expense in creating a princely empire for himself in the Brazilian wilderness.
R.P. Brienen is a visiting scholar in the Art History Department at Leiden University, the Netherlands. Beginning in the fall of 2001, she will be a member of the faculty of the Art History Department at the University of Miami, Coral Gables, Florida. This article draws on her dissertation, ‘The Dutch in Brazil: Art and Science at a Colonial Court, 1637-1644’ (Northwestern University, anticipated Dec. 2001.)