Catesby map text

Now when I was a little chap I had a passion for maps. I would look for hours at South America, Africa, or Australia, and lose myself in all the glories of exploration… I would put my finger on it and say, ‘When I grow up I will go there.’

- Charlie Marlow from Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness

INTRODUCTION More than one hundred years before John James Audubon (1785-1851), declared his intention to paint every bird in North America, Mark Catesby (1683-1749) was already on his way from London accompanying his sister to her new home in Williamsburg, Virginia where her husband was awaiting her arrival. Armed with letters of introduction and backed by botanical and naturalist collectors in London, he was well equipped to collect and ship seeds and saplings of flora, and skins and samples of fauna and birds, unknown to the enthusiastic collectors of England. From 1712 to 1719 and again on a second trip from 1722 until 1726 he collected, gardened, sketched, wrote de- scriptive text and painted as a field collector. When he returned to England in 1726, his patrons encouraged him to publish his watercolor illustrations in print. It was an endeavor that would consume the next twenty years of his life. The 263 watercolors which Catesby “drew from life” became the models for the copper plate engravings he produced, hand-colored and published. Catesby was not only a self-taught artist and watercolorist, he could not afford to pay for the engravings and was forced to learn the skill of engraving. Between 1729 and 1747, Catesby published his work on The Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands. The copper plate engravings were hand colored by Catesby and later under his supervision, based on the field notes and watercolors he produced on those journeys. Sold by subscription (which rapidly sold out) they were issued in editions of twenty images accompanied by his descriptive text. The descriptions not only pertained to the species, but there were extensive notes on the topography, the customs and habits of the natives as well as the possible sites for commerce and industry. In the second volume of Natural History, this map was included along with more extensive descriptive text than in the first volume. Catesby relied heavily on the most famous large scale of map of North America published in London by Henry Popple in 1733: Map of the British Empire in America with the French and Spanish Settlements Adjacent Thereto. The history of cartography is replete with examples of highly decorative maps. They were a symbol of culture and of place. The link between cartography and art is still evident in Popple’s map. Evolving from the Renaissance period, 16th century Venetian homes were often resplendent with maps more fanciful than accurate but with cartouches and decorative borders that would remain the staple of the cartographer art for centuries. While the cartouches and decorative borders would diminish or disappear with time, these personal flourishes would remain as the personal selection of symbols chosen by the cartographer. The importance of this issue will be explained further on. Henry Popple (d.1743) produced his large scale map, primarily to illustrate commercial potential of the British Em- pire in America. It was the first large scale map of North America. Originally published with “the Approbation of the Right Honorable Lords Commissioners of Trade and Plantations,” Popple’s map had quasi-official status, and a copy was sent to each of the governments of each of the colonies. There is the approba- tion of Edmund Halley: “ I have seen the abovementioned Map, which as far as I am Judge, seems to have been laid down with great Accuracy, and the shew the Position of the different Provinces & Islands in that Part of the Globe more truly than any yet extant.” Benjamin Franklin ordered two for the Pennsylvania Assembly on 22 May 1746, “one bound and the other in sheets.” One was hanging in the Pennsylvania State House when the Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4th 1776. John Adams noted that Popple’s map was “the largest I ever saw and the most distinct.” Copies were found in the private collections of several of the wealthier founding fathers, including George Washington. -Christie’s auction catalog description New York April 2014

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