Folios 17v–18r

Histoire Naturelle des Indes

Illustrated manuscript

ca. 1586
Binding: 30 x 21 cm; individual leaves: 29.3 x 19.7 cm.

Bequest of Clara S. Peck, 1983

MA 3900 (fol. 17v–18)
Item description: 

In 1983, The Morgan Library & Museum received, as the bequest of Clara S. Peck, an extraordinary volume whose beautiful paintings and descriptions document the plant, animal, and human life of the Caribbean late in the sixteenth century. Spaniards had already begun to exert influence over the indigenous people of the area when explorers from England and France arrived, among them Sir Francis Drake. The volume, known as the Drake Manuscript and titled Histoire Naturelle des Indes when it was bound in the eighteenth century, gives us a wonderful picture of daily life at the time of Drake's many visits to the region. Although Drake's connection to the manuscript is uncertain, he is mentioned on more than one occasion by the authors. Drake himself is known to have painted, but none of his work survives.

Contents: 199 images of West Indian plants, animals and human life, with accompanying manuscript captions written in late sixteenth-century French.

Medium: Most of the illustrations consist of a black chalk underdrawing and a combination of pen and brown ink with watercolor; on some images selected areas have also been glazed with a gum.

Binding: Bound or rebound in brown leather in the late 18th century.

Pagination: Penciled folio numbers (1–125) in lower right corner of each page were added by The Morgan Library & Museum. Folios 92v–93, 93v–94, and 95v–96 are fold-out leaves.

Translation: 

Bregele

This herb serves to soften hard iron. They take the leaf and some soil which they call "a bar" and wrap the iron with said leaf. They cover it with earth and then throw it in the fire and the fire being sufficiently hot, it [the iron] becomes as soft as lead.

Patates De La Marguerite (Sweet Potato from the Isla De Margarita, Venezuela)

This fruit is also eaten instead of bread after being roasted over wood-embers.

Rovmerre

An herb very good for bad air. The Indians throw it in the fire in their houses and burn it and if there are some poisonous animals of any sort when they smell the smoke of this herb, they die instantly and by the same method all the poison disappears.