Mark Catesby, Pl 58 The Wampum Snake, The Natural History of Carolina, Vol. 2, 1754, hand-colored engraving

$1,650 this week only (list price $2,200). Offer expires 10-9-2017

Laura Oppenheimer

Mark Catesby, Pl. 58 The Wampum Snake, Vol. 2, The Natural History of Carolina...1754, hand-colored engraving

Acquire a superb hand-colored engraving by Mark Catesby, Pl. 58 The Wampum Snake, Anguis e caeruluo & albo various, from The Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Island, available this week only at a special price. The current names for the species depicted are: eastern mudsnake, Fanacia abacura; leopard lily, pine lily, Lilium catesbaei.

One of the most strikingly elegant compositions by Catesby to depict a snake, his inventive use of symmetry between the Wampum Snake and Red Lilly are characteristic of Catesby's innate sense of design. The diamond pattern of the writhing snake's back alternates with the pattern of its scaly blue under belly to rhythmically unite the composition left to right. The parallel straight elements of the top and bottom halves of the stalk of The Red Lilly (stalk with flower and leaves on the left; stalk with roots on the right) are shown as two half pieces to fit the horizontal format, which also serves as a device to vertically frame the curvilinear snake. His palette of blue, red, orange, yellow, green, and tan and the textured forms that clearly identify his natural history subjects work together to produce a cohesively graphic and harmonious composition. Catesby's initials (MC) are engraved on the lower left side. 

Below is Catesby's text description for this plate.

 Anguis e caeruluo & albo varius: The Wampum Snake.

This Snake receives its name from the Resemblance it has to Indian Money called Wampum, which is made of Shells cut into regular Pieces, and strung with a Mixture of Blue and White. Some of these Snakes are large, being five Feet in Length; yet there is no Harm in their Bite, but as all the largest Snakes are voracious, so will they devour what Animals they are able to overcome; The Back of this Serpent was dark Blue, the Belly finely clouded with brighter Blue, the Head small in Proportion to its Body. They seem to retain their Colour and Marks at every Change of their Exuviae. They are found in Virginia and Carolina.Sarracena, foliis longioribus & angustioribus; Bucanephyllon elatius Virginianum.

Lilium Carolinianum, flore croceo punctato, petalis longioribus & angustioribus: The Red Lilly.

This Lilly grows from a single bulbous scaly Root about the Size of a Walnut, rising with a single Stalk to the Height of about two Feet, to which from the Bottom on the Flower are set opposite to each other narrow Leaves. One Flower only is produced on the Top of the Stalk, consisting of six Petals, every of which have a Footstalk an Inch long; these Petals turn back in a graceful Manner and are tapering, terminating in Points and edged with small Indentures: From the Bottom of the Flower rises six very long Stamina with their Apices, surrounding a Pistillum; the whole Flower is variously shaded with Red, Orange and Lemmon Colours. They grow on open moist Savannas in many Parts of Carolina.

Catesby added significantly to eighteenth-century natural history, introducing many of the plants he found in colonial America to Europe, and contributing more than 20 new plant species as well as over 70 bird illustrations to Carl Linnaeus' landmark work, Systema Naturae. In 1754, five years after Catesby's death, a second edition of his Natural History was revised and printed in London by the ornithologist and natural history painter George Edwards (1694–1773). Printed from Catesby's original copper plates, the 1754 edition is generally more colorful than the first edition.

This rare hand-colored engraving is in perfect condition with pristine original color; 14.25 x 20.25 inches.

$1,650 this week only (list price $2,200). Offer expires 10-9-17.

References: The Curious Mr. Catesby, Edited by E. Charles Nelson and David J. Elliott, pg. 347

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A naturalist-explorer and self-taught artist who executed almost every aspect of this historic work, Mark Catesby (1683–1749) possessed a unique combination of talents. To publish his work, he learned the complicated process of etching from the print maker Joseph Goupy. From 1731 to 1747, The Natural History was published in two volumes in five parts comprising a total of 200 plates. The Appendix, which was compiled from specimens available in England, added 20 more. The artist George Edwards revised and re-issued both volumes from 1748 to 1756, and in 1771 the publisher Benjamin White reissued the Edwards version adding Linnaean names to all of Catesby’s plants and animals. All editions have the same number of plates.

 Born in Castle Hedingham, Essex, England, to John Catesby, a lawyer, and Elizabeth Jekyll, the daughter of a prominent family, Catesby’s interest in the natural world began in childhood, when as a boy he was introduced to the renowned naturalist John Ray, who lived nearby and became an early influence. Mark Catesby traveled from England to the new world on a legendary discovery expedition a century before Audubon first published his work. In the preface in Volume I, he explains the forces that motivated him:

“The early Inclination I had to search after Plants, and other Productions in Nature, being much suppressed by my residing too remote from London the Center of all Science, I was deprived of all Opportunities and Examples to excite me to a stronger Pursuit after those Things to which I was naturally bent: yet my Curiosity was such, that not being content with contemplating the Products of our own Country, I soon imbibed a passionate Desire of viewing as well the Animal as Vegetable Productions in their Native Countries; which were Strangers to England. Virginia was the Place (I having Relations there) suited most with my Convenience to go to, where I arriv’d the 23d. of April 1712. I thought then so little of prosecuting a Design of the Nature of this Work, that in the Seven Years I resided in that Country, (I am ashamed to own it) I chiefly gratified my Inclination in observing and admiring the various Productions of those Countries, —- only sending from thence some dried Specimens of Plants and some of the most Specious of them in Tubs of Earth, at the Request of some curious Friends, amongst whom was Mr. Dale of Braintree in Essex, a skilful Apothecary and Botanist: to him, besides Specimens of Plants, I sent some few Observations on the Country, which he communicated to the late William Sherard, L. L. D. one of the most celebrated Botanists of this Age, who favoured me with his Friendship on my Return to England till the Year 1719; and by his Advice, (tho conscious of my own Inability) I first resolved on this Undertaking, so agreeable to my Inclination.

Catesby gained extensive knowledge of the new world on his first visit to the colony of Virginia from 1712–19. His return visit in 1722 was sponsored by William Sherard, Hans Sloane and others in the Royal Society. Landing in Charles Town (Charleston, South Carolina), for five years Catesby explored the wilderness, taking notes, collecting specimens, and making drawings that documented quadrupeds, insects, amphibians and reptiles, fish, birds, and plants. Whenever possible, he drew his subjects from life. Again, the preface to his monumental work provides insights into his painting of natural history subjects.

“As I was not bred a Painter I hope some faults in Perspective, and other Niceties, may be more readily excused, for I humbly conceive Plants, and other Things done in a Flat, tho’ exact manner, may serve the Purpose of Natural History, better in some measure than in a more bald and Painter like Way. In designing the Plants, I always did them while fresh and just gather’d: And the Animals, particularly the Birds, I painted them while alive (except a very few) and gave them their Gestures peculiar to every kind of Bird, and where it would admit of, I have adapted the Birds to those Plants on which they fed, or have any Relation to. Fish which do not retain their Colours when out of their Element, I painted at different times, having a succession of them procur’d while the former lost their Colours: I dont pretend to have had this advantage in all, for some kinds I saw not plenty of, and of others I never saw above one or two: Reptiles will live many Months without Sustenance, so that I had no difficulty in Painting them while living.”

References: The Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands, Beehive Press, 1974; The Curious Mister Catesby, edited for the Catesby Commemorative Trust by E. Charles Nelson and David J. Elliott, Forward by Jane O, Waring, University of Georgia Press, 2015

For further information or to purchase, please call the gallery at 312-642-5300.
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