Histoire Naturelle des Indes
Binding: 30 x 21 cm; individual leaves: 29.3 x 19.7 cm.
Bequest of Clara S. Peck, 1983
MA 3900 (fol. 67v–68)
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.
This is an animal that wages war on hares and rabbits like the fox in this country [France]. It has two glands like a civet cat producing a very excellent perfume which is similar to that of a sheep's droppings and the skin has a very good scent.
This is an animal that lives underground like a badger. It only feeds on roots and no animal dares attack it since it retracts head and paws in a ball in its shell similar to that of a tortoise. Its meat is very excellent eating.