Prince Maximilian of Wied-Neuwied (1782-1867) had a lot going for him. Born into a noble family who ruled lands on the bank of the River Rhine in Germany, he had an excellent education. In the course of that, he was taught biology by Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, a comparative anthropologist, and from 1814 his mentor was Alexander von Humboldt, the polymath geographer and naturalist.
After serving fifteen years in the Prussian Army, during which he fought in twelve major battles and earned the Iron Cross, in 1815 he led an expedition to eastern Brazil.
After a year there, he discovered a tribe now known as the Aimoré and befriended one, who was dubbed Joachim Quäck and became their guide. After gathering copious quantities of botanical and zoological specimens, in 1817 the Prince’s health was deteriorating, and he was forced to abandon the expedition. Returning home proved no simpler, as he was detained for four days, robbed of most of his specimens, and finally left Brazil in May.
The Prince kept abundant records, including drawings and sketches, which he later turned into two books, the first recounting the story of the expedition, and the second giving an account of the flora and fauna which they had discovered.
Quäck helped the expedition by catching them large butterflies using his bow and special blunted arrows which only stunned the specimens and didn’t damage them. The Brazilian travelled to the Prince’s home in Neuwied in 1818, where he worked as Maximilian’s personal valet, but died in 1834.
This portrait of Joachim Quäck was painted by Maximilian’s younger brother Karl, after the Brazilian had been in Germany for over a decade.
The Prince returned to the Americas in 1832, when he took the Swiss artist Karl Bodmer (1809–1893) to produce what became aquatints in another book, published in 1840. Together they travelled up the Missouri River recording the cultures of tribes including the Mandan and the Hidatsa. He returned to Germany after two years, with over four hundred paintings by Bodmer, two live grizzly bear cubs, wordlists from over twenty languages from the indigenous peoples of the Great Plains, and thousands of pages of notes.
The Prince died at the ripe old age of 84, in 1867.
Here’s a small selection of paintings by Karl Bodmer which were presented as aquatints in the Prince’s book on their expedition.