This intriguing miniature painting shows a Virginian Indian at the Zoological Gardens in St James’s Park, surrounded by birds and animals which are said to be ‘Indian’. This man seems to have stayed in London around 1615 – one of a small number of Native Americans brought to England by explorers, and exhibited as curiosities.

In The Tempest, Trinculo remarks on the fact that American people were often exploited as a profitable form of popular entertainment. Even when they died (as they often did, from European diseases), they were regarded as wonders to be put on display. Trinculo says that ‘in England’ inquisitive viewers would give ‘a piece of silver’ to see ‘a monster’ or ‘strange fish’ and ten doits (or low value coins) ‘to see a dead Indian’ (2.2.24–33).

The friendship album of Michael van Meer

The image forms part of the friendship album collected by Michael van Meer, who seems to have lived in Hamburg and travelled to London around 1614–15.

What were friendship albums?

From the mid-16th century, German and Dutch-speaking students would often embark on a tour of other European cities to complete their studies. As mementos of their travels, they began to keep personalised albums like this one, known in Latin as album amicorum or in German as Stammbucher. The custom then expanded from students to nobles and other travelling men such as soldiers, lawyers, merchants, teachers and artisans.

Like early autograph albums, these books include signatures, coats of arms, dedications and mottoes from friends and acquaintances or dignitaries. Van Meer’s album has a striking range of autograph inscriptions from monarchs and nobles both in England and on the continent – including King James himself, his wife Anna of Denmark, her brother Christian IV (King of Denmark) and Frederick V (the husband of James’s daughter, Elizabeth). It is carefully constructed to present an image of its owner as a cosmopolitan, well-educated man with an eminent circle of contacts.

Miniature paintings of London

At first these albums were adapted from existing printed works or put together from illustrations cut from printed books. Increasingly, however, people began to use plain-leaved oblong albums like this one, which were filled with specially commissioned illustrations in pen and ink or watercolour.

The new acquaintance would often pay a professional local artist to draw (or copy a stock image) on their behalf. As a result these collections showcase a diverse mixture of styles and levels of artistic skill. They range from lively local scenes – cities and landscapes, leisure pursuits, regional dress and professions – to more allegorical figures taken from Christian and classical tales.

This particular album contains an especially notable range of paintings of Jacobean London – from a barmaid holding a glass of beer to King James I in procession, from Windsor Castle to St James’s Park and the Tower of London.