Histoire Naturelle des Indes

The Histoire Naturelle des Indes, created sometime in the 1590’s, is one of the earliest illustrated records of European contact with the America. Also know it by its informal title The Drake Manuscript it was donated to the the Pierpont Morgan Library in 1983, who after many years of study graciously produced a full color facsimile. I happen to have said facsimile, which was published in 1996, right here in front of me. Shall we take a gander?

01.19. filed under: art. books. history. humanity.

A rude vigor indeed. These are delightful. I particularly like the sloth.

posted on 01.20 at 10:14 AMjane

Thanks JM for taking the great trouble to get all this together. I had seen tidbits of this around and my curiosity was surely piqued (and not piquant) so I’m very grateful for your compilation.

Though I understand what you mean about seeing these as starkly contrasting to contemporary stylistic leaders, it’s not a thought that would come to my mind without prompting. The elite were the consumers of the high art so your rough and tumble stand-in artist-sailor types were probably as equally unaware of contemporary (and in many ways similarly outlandish) reports of the New World such as from the de Bry printshops as they would have been about artistic developments. It’s real outsider art or at least, moreso than it could possibly be today except maybe in your deepest jungle tv-less tribes.

posted on 01.20 at 11:38 AMpeacay

What a great way to start my Sunday—thanks for sharing these.

posted on 01.20 at 12:02 PMLori Witzel

Your scan of the “Mantte” arrived in my RSS folder more or less at the same time as this monster devil fish.  Coincidence?

posted on 01.20 at 12:46 PMJack Rusher

SO COOL! and your thoughts after helped me appreciate them even more!!!
Thank you

posted on 01.20 at 03:38 PMachilles3

Absolutely incredible. I also have a whole new respect for the ant eater!

posted on 01.21 at 11:27 AMJackDirt

Ack. Somehow I missed this checking in this morning. Great stuff.

Like your older referenced post it is the stuff that is just plain wrong, rather than slightly off or exaggerated, that amuses me the most. The caption for sloths, for example, suggests the natives might have been poking fun in their descriptions to visitors trying to take field notes.

posted on 01.21 at 11:46 AMPierce

It seems odd to me to look at the dichotomy between this and Caravaggio and attribute it to anything other than (y)our imperfect understanding of the period. Or, not odd, but ahistorical.

Anyway, there is a good book about what the “indians” were painting and how it changed after the conquest:
(if the link doesn’t work, it’s Serge Gruzinki, Painting the Conquest, 1992, OP).

posted on 01.22 at 06:18 PMmax

Allow me to quibble with you a bit: eagles may not have stones in their stomachs, but some other birds certainly do. (I was, pace John Denver, born a country boy after all). Chickens eat pebbles and keep them in their crops (like cattle, they have more ‘stomachs’ than we). These serve the same purpose as molars in mammals, that of grinding. If the stones become too worn, the bird pukes them out and finds more to its liking. Dinosaurs, at least some of them, did this too: known for piles of round stones right in the middle of the skeleton where the guts would be. They would travel a long way to get good ones. It’s been noted also that this is actually more efficient than the mammalian system, which depends on irreplaceable molars. When an elephant’s molars are worn out, it dies.

Saw an insect exhibit. Did you know some of those millipedes actually secrete cyanide?!??!? Almost as big as a carrot, too. So, yeah, some of them bastards will kill you in your bed, if your luck is bad enough. Just thought you might enjoy knowing this as you drift off to sleep.

posted on 01.24 at 12:26 AM.


In, I think, the first episode of Attenborough’s Life in the Undergrowth there is a section of the world’s largest centipede, the Scolopendra gigantea, which can grow up to 30cm, the size of a man’s forearm. In their feature one climbs up the wall to the ceiling of a bat cave, dangles two-thirds of its body down into the dark and plucks a bat out of mid-air. Then eats it.

posted on 01.24 at 11:32 AMPierce

Guess we’ll all have to wait and see if the centipede and ant-eater make a comeback as high school mascots! Oh the (graphic) possibilities! Ha!

Very Respectfully,

posted on 01.25 at 02:22 PM.

Mmmmmm. Fresh bat. They should call it Scolopendra ozzyosbourniensis.

Because there’s at least one more bad joke to be got at Ozzy’s expense.

posted on 01.26 at 11:10 PM.

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