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A Thistle and a Caterpillar. Bodycolor on vellum.
United Kingdom 1585 - The extraordinary career and oeuvre of the Huguenot artist Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues-the first European artist to visit the new world-have only relatively recently been defined and described. The varied circumstances of his artistic production must surely be unique in the history of art; although large periods of his career are undocumented, he appears to have worked as a court artist in France under Charles IX, is known to have traveled to Florida in 1564 as official artist and cartographer in the ill-fated French attempt to establish a colony there, and to have ended his career as a celebrated botanical artist in Elizabethan London. Until well into the present century, our knowledge of Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues's artistic endeavors was extremely limited and largely confined to the footnotes of inaccessible ethnographic bibliographies. In 1922, however, Spencer Savage, librarian of the Linnean Society, made a discovery that opened the way to the subsequent definition of Le Moyne as an artistic personality; he recognized that a group of fifty-nine watercolors of plants contained in a small volume, purchased by the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1856 solely for its fine sixteenth-century French binding, were in fact by Le Moyne. Savage's publications relating to this discovery prepared the way for subsequent attribution to the artist of other important groups of drawings and watercolors, the most notable being held by the British Museum and the Oak Spring Library, Virginia. Part of a group of miniatures on vellum of plants probably preduced between 1585 and 1588, this exquisite rendering of a thistle is highly comparable to Le Moyne's thistle drawing in the British Museum. Here, however, the artist allows the plant to fill the entire picture space and incorporates a rich blue ground to grant the plant a magnificent grandeur usually unknown to such a delicate genre. Either a milk or St. Mary's thistle, the plant is lively constructed, its leaves expanding to a beautifully detailed frame painted in blue and gold. The thorny collar under its milk-white, slightly pink flower has incredible movement, evoking a vitality that pulses through its dancing leaves. Le Moyne's inclusion of the caterpillar furthers this sense of animation while reminding the viewer of the truly small scale of his tremendous subject. The coloring is masterful, as Le Moyne uses a golden eye for his bluish grey and white caterpillar that rhymes with the yellow thorns and golden frame, creating a luxurious vibrancy when set against the brilliant blue of the complementary ground and the rich greens that articulate the plant's body. With its beautiful flower and prickly thorns, the thistle has long been a symbol of protection, pain, and honor; in the bible it allowed Mary to protect and feed Baby Jesus and was likewise associated with the thorny crown of his Passion, while in Britain and France it has been variously employed to protect and celebrate, and it has been a symbol of Scottish heraldry since the Renaissance. With his sure and dexterous brushwork and keen eye for color and detail, Le Moyne creates a thistle that is at once enchanting and dangerous, a true representation of such an incredible plant. Le Moyne was born around 1533 in Dieppe. The first thirty years of his life are undocumented, but it is reasonable to suppose that he trained as an artist in his native town, which was, at that time, a notable center for cartography and illumination. Between 1564 and 1565 he was engaged in the French expedition to Florida. In his highly important account of this transatlantic voyage, known today from a Latin edition published in Frankfurt in 1591 under the title Brevis narratio eorum quae in Florida Americai provincia Gallis acciderunt, Le Moyne explains how the French King Charles IX instructed him to accompany the expedition, headed by the notable mariners Jean Ribault and Rene Goulaine de Laudonnière, as official recording artist and cartographer. Laudonn [Attributes: Signed Copy]
      [Bookseller: Arader Galleries - Aradernyc]
Last Found On: 2016-10-08           Check availability:      AbeBooks    


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