Magazine article The Spectator

Creatures of a Brave New World

Magazine article The Spectator

Creatures of a Brave New World

Article excerpt

This surprising and beautiful book presents the facsimile of a 16th-century French manuscript illustrating the natural history and native life of the West Indies at the time of Francis Drake's voyages among those islands. It is possibly the work of a Huguenot sailor. There are 62 unexciting botanical drawings before the sailor is let loose among the fish and begins to get into his stride. Every fish and every bird and animal in the 89 illuminations dealing with the natural history of the islands has a face expressive of a rich emotional life. Even the molluscs have expressive shells. But it is in his pictures of human life that the artist excels himself; 43 strong and dramatic figure drawings of all manner of activities meticulously depicted, from refining silver to the treatment of poisoned arrow wounds. It is an extraordinary feat, a little like a bestiary in its effect, and a little like an illuminated manuscript in its blend of sophistication with naivety, but a work of art not obviously linked to the painting or drawing of its day. …

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