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Fish in Watercolour : John White’s Lively Specimens

Des poissons à l’aquarelle : les spécimens vivants de John White
Anne-Valérie Dulac

Résumés

Le gentleman-dessinateur John White a participé au deuxième voyage de l'Angleterre vers le Nouveau Monde en 1585, dont le but était d’implanter une colonie en Virginie. La raison de sa présence à bord est bien documentée. Dans un manuscrit daté d'environ 1584-1585 intitulé Inducements to the Liking of the Voyage intended towards Virginia in 40. and 42. degrees, Richard Hakluyt suggérait que l'expédition avait besoin, parmi les commerçants à bord, « d'un peintre habile [...] dont les Espagnols se sont servis communément dans toutes leurs découvertes pour produire une description de toutes les bêtes, oiseaux, poissons, villages, etc. ». Suivant une tradition attribuée aux Espagnols, John White se voit donc confier la mission de « dessiner au vif tous les oiseaux étranges, les bêtes, les poissons, les plantes, les arbres et les fruits, et de ramener autant que possible un exemplaire de toute chose ». Les dessins « au vif » de John White apparaissent maintenant clairement comme ayant été réalisés sur la base de connaissances classiques et de publications illustrées antérieures. En outre, la finesse de nombreux dessins de White, soignés et méticuleux, White indique qu'ils sont très probablement le résultat d'un travail substantiel a posteriori, et ne peuvent donc pas être qualifiés d'ad vivum en soi, comme c’était courant au début de la période moderne. Parmi les soixante-quinze dessins à l'aquarelle sur papier du British Museum, vraisemblablement réalisés par John White et rassemblés dans un album dont la page de titre les décrit comme des « pictures of sondry things collected and counterfeited according to the truth » (« images de choses vivantes collectées et reproduites d’après la vérité »), les images de poissons représentent plus d'un tiers. À partir de ce point de départ, le présent article explore les raisons pour lesquelles les poissons occupent une place aussi importante dans les images de White. Je soutiens qu'en plus de leurs objectifs pratiques, religieux et commerciaux, ces dessins témoignent aussi d'une présentation courtoise et artistique de leurs sujets. J'adopte donc une approche orientée vers la technique picturale pour observer les poissons dans l'album du British Museum. Mon article soutient que le développement de l'aquarelle (ou “limning” –“enluminure”- comme on l'appelait alors en Angleterre) en tant que médium pictural a donné naissance à une conception de l'illustration ichtyologique qui différait assez nettement des autres techniques de représentation alors populaires (comme la gravure). La qualité colorée et lumineuse des pigments utilisés dans l'aquarelle semble avoir été pleinement exploitée par John White dans sa représentation des poissons, et peut également expliquer en partie son choix d'espèces et de spécimens, ajoutant ainsi une dimension esthétique et nettement picturale à la transmission des connaissances ichtyologiques.

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Introduction : John White’s Watercolours

  • 1 In a letter to Richard Hakluyt, John White writes the following: « Thus may you plainely perceive t (...)
  • 2 Jenny Bescoby, Judith Rayner, Janet Ambers and Duncan Hook, « New Visions of New World: The Conserv (...)
  • 3 About the attribution of the drawings to John White and the other album owned by the British Museum (...)

1The present paper discusses the watercolours of fish painted by John White between 1585 and 1587, following his participation in a number of expeditions to Virginia and the ‘New World’. Virginia, thus named in honour of Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen, corresponds to what is now known as the Outer Banks, inlands and mainland of North Carolina. The watercolour drawings, seventy-five of them, variously depict the North Caroline Algonquians, their customs and costumes, as well as the flora, fish and other fauna of the area at large. These images are one of the surprisingly few clues to John White’s role in the many voyages he undertook (five in all, as he himself writes)1 and to his biography at large which, as David Beers Quinn writes, « remains largely a series of unresolved questions » (Quinn, 1952: 40). John White was an English gentleman, a fine watercolour artist, a map-maker and a surveyor. He was born in the 1540s and was last heard of in Ireland in 1593. As his repeated participation in expeditions to the east coast of North America makes evident, « he was heavily involved with attempts, sponsored by Sir Walter Raleigh among others, to establish English colonies in the region and in 1587 became governor of a failed attempt at a permanent settlement on Roanoke Island (the so-called ‘Lost Colony’) »2. His unique visual legacy lies in the numerous watercolours he produced of his encounter with a world which was new to the English nation. White’s lively images were « probably originally intended to form a presentation album to be given to Queen Elizabeth I, Walter Raleigh or another patron at court at some time after the second of his voyages in 1585 and would have been used to encourage support for the establishment of a permanent colony. » (Bescoby et alii, 2007: 47). The history of the drawings we know of (now in the Department of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum, 1906, 0509.1.1–73) is as lacunary as White’s own, as they were only next traced in the late 18th century when the Earl of Charlemont purchased an album containing 75 of them.3 In 1865, shortly after the album was sent to Sotheby’s in London, a fire broke in the warehouse where it was stored. The damage that ensued resulted less from the fire itself than from the water used to extinguish it, « as the saturated volume was left under pressure beneath other books for three weeks. » (Bescoby et alii, 2007: 47). Recent technical research led at the British Museum has exposed the extent of the deterioration caused and shown how close some of the drawings came to destruction. Expectably enough, the colours of White’s pictures were the most severely damaged by the ensuing ‘offsetting’ (i.e. pigments transferring to the next leaf or sheet): « [m]any of the colours would have appeared much more intense before pigment was transferred (offset) to interleaving sheets during the event of 1865 » (Bescoby et alii, 2007: 12). This seems all the truer as technical analysis has led to the identification of John White’s use of many originally « deeper and bolder [colours] much less like what we normally think of as watercolour drawings » (Sloan, 2007: 234). One thus has to bear in mind how the watercolours of fish I will be discussing are in many cases mere shadows of the brightly coloured originals. The reason why this is fundamental for the present paper is because I will argue that the depiction of fish, among John White’s many subjects, offers the most vivid instance of the early modern perception of limning as a fit medium for the depiction of the true colours of all things living.

1. Re-discovering John White after Theodor de Bry

  • 4 Paul Hulton and David Beers Quinn (eds.), The American Drawings of John White, 1577-1590, with Draw (...)
  • 5 See Sloan, 2007 and Kim Sloan (ed.), European Visions: American Voices, London, 2009.

2For all the damage and discolouration they suffered, John White’s drawings have retained the ability to impress and fascinate viewers to this day. They have attracted a substantial amount of scholarly attention since 1964 when the first catalogue of White’s works was edited by Paul Hulton and David Beers Quinn4. Four decades later, they were the focus of a major travelling exhibition which opened at the British Museum in 2007, before journeying to the North Carolina Museum of History (Raleigh), the Yale Center for British Art and the Jamestown Settlement (Virginia) the following year. The catalogue for this exhibition, along with the proceedings of the international conference which accompanied the opening of the event, offer some of the latest historical and technical findings regarding the watercolours’ conservation and significance5. Before these relatively recent publications, White’s limnings had come to be known mostly indirectly via another medium altogether – the copperplate engravings which the influential Flemish engraver and printer Theodor de Bry created after White’s drawings, for the lavishly illustrated Folio edition of Thomas Harriot’s Brief and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia (1590):

For nearly three centuries John White enjoyed an enormous, yet anonymous popularity. Although Theodor de Bry had given credit to the artist when publishing the engravings after White’s watercolours in 1590, those who copied from de Bry were hardly interested in the original author. (Sloan, 2007 : 76)

  • 6 Six copies of this edition are known to survive. It is generally admitted it was printed by Robert (...)
  • 7 In his address to the ‘gentle reader’, De Bry expresses his gratitude towards « Master Hakluyt of O (...)
  • 8 The term is used repeatedly in Hariot’s relation.
  • 9 Peter Stallybrass, « Admiranda Narratio: A European Besteller » (in Hariot, 2007, p. 9-30): 14. See (...)
  • 10 About the representation of animals in De Bry’s whole collection, see van Groesen, The Representati (...)
  • 11 A scan of the engraving can be seen on the website of the Arts Museums of Colonial Williamsburg: ht (...)
  • 12 A searchable reproduction of the engraving can be seen on the website of the Schoenberg Center for (...)

3Harriot’s text had already been made available as a quarto two years before, following its completion in February 1588, yet this very first English edition did not include any illustrations6. Geographer Richard Hakluyt, an adamant propagandist of English colonisation in North America, was responsible for bringing both Harriot’s report and White’s watercolours to the attention of the Frankfurt-based engraver and for persuading him to open his collection with Harriot and White’s illustrated report rather than with the French accounts of their own expeditions to Florida which De Bry had already obtained7. The folio edition of Harriot’s relation is supplemented with 23 engravings of White’s ‘true pictures’, all of them focusing on Virginia’s « inhabitants, their apparel, manners of living and fashions » (Hariot, 2007: 59), along with two additional maps. De Bry’s edition therefore does not include any of White’s remarkable stand-alone watercolours of flora and fauna, as the prestigious folio focuses instead on the description of ‘commodities’8 and, to a lesser extent, the Algonquians themselves – but only « insofar as they grow food, catch fish, and hunt animals »9. Although fish are not absent from De Bry’s images, they were no longer the subject of any remarkable depiction10. In the 1590 folio, fish mostly serve as a background or further evidence of the New World’s fertility and profusion of victuals. For instance, an arresting number of fish can be seen in the background of the fourth engraving, captioned « A Noble Married Woman from Secota », their presence being justified by the closing words of the accompanying description, « [a]lso they [the married women of Secota] delight in walking in the fields and along the river to watch the hunting of deer and catching of fish » (Hariot, 2007: 62)11. The focus of this background scene is on the expert fishermen and their techniques rather than their prey. Although the notable size of all fish represented in the picture testifies to the ocean’s plenteousness, the lack of detail in their rendition makes it clear that the engraver did not have accurate identification in mind. Fish are also mainly presented as profuse sustenance in engravings XIIII to XVI, presenting the Algonquians’ cooking customs. The only copperplate offering a detailed depiction of live fish is number XIII, entitled « The Method of Fishing of the Inhabitants of Virginia »12. While the title and caption of the picture mostly insist upon fishing methods (the short description which follows only mentions en passant that « [v]arious kinds of fish are found in the rivers there, different from ours and exceptionally tasty », hariot, 2007: 66), the engraving reveals quite an outstanding number of distinct species, all of which prove fairly minutely drawn. In fact, comparing this with White’s watercolour (fig. 1), one realises there are even more varieties of fish depicted than in the original watercolour.

  • 13 I here reproduce the captions written by Sloan for all images used, which are available on the Brit (...)

Fig. 1. John White, Indians fishing; variety of aquatic life in water, birds flying overhead, in foreground canoe carrying four figures and fish, beyond two figures spear fishing and stretch of water fenced off, in distance another boat. Watercolour touched with gold13. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

  • 14 White's picture of a land crab can be seen at the following location: https://www.britishmuseum.org (...)
  • 15 Victoria Dickenson, Drawn From Life: Science and Art in the Portrayal of the New World, Toronto, 19 (...)
  • 16 Reuben Goforth and Jules Janick, « Identification of New World aquatic invertebrate illustrations i (...)

4In addition to the catfish, burrfish, skate, hammerhead shark, sturgeon and king crab all visible in John White’s watercolour, De Bry’s folio engraving includes an additional loggerhead tortoise and land crab (probably engraved after White’s standalone watercolour) yet omits the hermit crab14. Most of the changes made by de Bry in the engraving consist in giving an overall impression of profusion rather than precision (in fact the fish in the engraving are far less recognisable than in the original picture): marine creatures are far more numerous (as are the birds in the sky – a pelican, swans and ducks) and varied (eels have even been added to people the scene further). But only few of them are etched with more precision or granted greater pictorial effect. The horseshoe crabs, for instance, sport « far more formidable claws » and much longer telsons than in the original watercolour15. De Bry’s more detailed and bigger version of the horseshoe crab may be attributed to the fact that White’s Limulacea appear to be « the first image of horseshoe crab in the New World although there are earlier images from Asia »16. The crabs, although qualifying as curiosities, are represented rather sketchily by White but rendered with relatively more accuracy by de Bry. So much so, in fact, that it has been suggested that de Bry worked from a now lost individual watercolour:

The de Bry etchings of L. polyphemus show more detail than the watercolour image of White. The elliptical shape has a length-width ratio of 1.25 and it shows five pairs of appendages extended from the carapace, with four pairs ending in pincers and the posterior appendage terminating in a clubbed shape. The chelicerae are correctly not shown in this lateral view, although the anterior pincer is exaggeratedly large. The image also correctly shows two lateral compound eyes. […] Given the sketchy nature of the White watercolour image, it is likely that it was derived from a detailed drawing or painting that has been lost. (Goforth et alii, 2015 : 14)

  • 17 About the differences between de Bry and White see also Nathan J. probasco, « American Bodies and L (...)
  • 18 Joan Paul Rubiés, « Text, Images and the Perception of ‘Savages’ in Early Modern Europe: What We Ca (...)

5It thus appears that wonder played a major part in de Bry’s selection of represented species, as is confirmed by his interpretation of the ray in the foreground. Its elegant and minute treatment, showing in its numerous and conspicuous spots, is a far cry from White’s originally rather unremarkable specimen. All in all, de Bry’s engraved version of the scene seems to highlight curiosity (the horseshoe crab and hammerhead shark certainly looked ‘strange’ to Europeans) and quantity (the number and size of all species represented, including familiar ones, like the ray, contributed to composing an even more memorable and crowded scene than White’s original watercolour). The comparison between these two images offers perhaps the most telling example of how de Bry « has rethought the original pictorial statement » (Dickenson, 1998: 64). Therefore, de Bry’s etchings cannot be described as simply more stylised or European than White’s watercolours: they tend to convey « both more and less information » (Dickenson, 1998: 65)17. The depiction of fish in America offers further confirmation that the « opposition of the naturalistic White to the classicizing de Bry needs to be relativized »18 and considered instead as pointing to differing « implied messages [,] intended functions » and viewership (Kuhlemann, 2007: 79).

  • 19 The engraving of White's watercolours still testifies to the de Brys' emphasis on the « particular (...)

6De Bry’s change in focus and medium for the 1590 folio has contributed to fading part of the original watercolours’ power, omitting as it did the idiosyncratic efficacy of White’s portraits of fish and their importance in grasping the limner’s visual bias19. The depiction of fish is far from anecdotal in the British Museum's seventy-five drawings in watercolour on paper presumably made by John White. Fourteen to seventeen of them may qualify as pictures of fish (depending on whether we accept ‘fish’ as Elizabethans would have this category, including tortoises for example), to which may be added other images still, including those describing the Indians' ‘manner of fishing’ or ‘broyling fish’). The fish watercolours therefore amount to more than a third of all drawings of flora and fauna in the album. By way of comparison, there are only nine birds.

7Why is there such an abundance of fish among White’s watercolour drawings? I will now turn to the reasons why White’s watercolours offer a lively illustration of the way the medium makes the fish. We need to look at White’s watercolours not so much as accurate ad vivum depictions of fish (with all due objections regarding their being the supposed result of ‘observation’ only, a point I will be discussing in the next section) but rather as fish being brought to life and liveliness through watercolour. What kind of afterlife were fish granted by this specific medium?

2. Fish in Watercolour : The Work of a Limner

  • 20 I am most grateful to Bérénice Gaillemin (J. Paul Getty Museum) for pointing out that in some insta (...)

8It remains impossible to ascertain the extent of work which John White did in situ, while still in North Carolina, or again how much he worked on board ship or from home in London – partly from memory and/or other sources. The reason for his presence on board, among other young men placed under military authority, is well documented. In a manuscript dated ca 1584-85 entitled Inducements to the Liking of the Voyage intended towards Virginia in 40. and 42. degrees, Richard Hakluyt suggested that the expedition needed, among the tradesmen on board, « a skilful painter [...] which the Spaniards used commonly in all their discoveries to bring the description of all beasts, birds, fishes, townes, &c. » (Quinn, 1952: 50)20. Not much is known about John White himself, save for the fact it is widely assumed he belonged to a category of « gentleman / courtier / amateur » (Sloan, 2007: 29). Recent studies of his techniques, pigments and materials, which I will be going back to in this section, have also led to his characterisation as « a practitioner of the more ‘fine and curious’ art of limning’«  (Sloan, 2007: 37).

  • 21 About the material and technical connections between the garnishing of diplomatic correspondence an (...)

9Limning evolved from the illumination of manuscripts, as the word ‘limning’ quite transparently indicates. Although it originally applied to the decoration of manuscripts, it became an umbrella word used for all paintings in watercolours (the word ‘watercolour’ itself was not yet in frequent use in English). Limners, who were frequently also trained as goldsmiths, started to explore limning outside the manuscripts where their work initially appeared in the second half of the 15th century. Artistic forms and genres thus gained autonomy as it were, by leaving the pages of manuscripts to turn into works in their own right, either on vellum (for the most costly ones) or on paper. Among those newly independent genres, the best known yet most exceptional may be the portrait miniature, whose first advent in manuscript illuminations was followed by a splendid emancipation that saw them develop as separable objects, no longer confined within the binding of a manuscript, turned as they were into beautifully wrought portable jewels. Portrait miniatures are only the high-end, magnificent and expensive exception in the genealogy of ‘limning’, which included all kinds of portraitures, whether of humans or plants, beasts, fish, birds etc. but also the garnishing of diplomatic correspondence or the decking of albums, maps or charters21. As has been noted by Katherine Coombs, Henry Peacham’s 1622 Compleat Gentleman, which offers the most complete description of the ‘manifold uses of limning’, indicates that Peacham « saw White’s images as falling within the bounds of the gentlemanly practice of limning »:

  • 22 Katherine Coombs, « ‘A Kind of Gentle Painting’: Limning in 16th-Century England », in Sloan, 2009, (...)

It bringeth home with us from the farthest part of the world in our bosomes, whatever is rare and worthy the observance, as the general Map of the country … the forms and colours of all fruits, [the] severall beauties of their flowers of medicinable simples never before seen or heard of : the …colours, and lively pictures of the Birds, the shape of their beasts, fishes, worms, flyes etc. It presents our eyes with their Complexion, Manner, and their Attyre. It shews us the Rites of their Religion, their houses, their weapons and manner of War…Beside, it preserveth the memory of a dearest friend, or fairest mistress22.

  • 23 See Bescoby et. al, 2007 and Timea Tallian , « John White’s Materials and Techniques », in Sloan, 2 (...)
  • 24 Alice rugheimer, « John White’s Watercolours: Conservation and Mouting » (in Sloan, 2009, p. 61-66) (...)

10What these pictures all had in common – a map, a beast, a rite, a mistress – and the reason they shared a name, was some of the materials and techniques used by the artists. Limners worked in watercolours along with lead pigments to provide deeper colours and also more infrequently with ground gold and silver. Depending on the picture’s support (vellum or paper), the artist’s techniques and their subjects, the word limning could therefore apply to an incredibly vast and diverse array of productions. A series of 21st-century’s technical analyses has led to the extremely precise identification of materials and techniques used by John White, thereby making it possible to locate him rather specifically within this tradition: « part illumination in the use of lead whites and deep colours, part portrait limning in the techniques used to indicate details of jewellery, and part natural history painting, as witnessed by the flower paintings of Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues » (Sloan, 2007: 234)23. White used high quality paper most probably imported from France in the 1580s24, and worked according to the following techniques:

He began each watercolour with a light sketch in what the Elizabethans called black lead [graphite]. [He then] laid his coloured pigments suspended in water and gum directly on the paper. The basic background colour was laid first with a wider brush ; then with increasingly deeper tones and finer brushes, he built up the image with small strokes of the brush. […] He would then add bodycolours, pigments containing lead which added opacity and richness of colour to more deeply coloured areas and to pick out certain details such as tattoo or jewellery. Finally, in selected places he would use white lead as a highlight and occasionally he added gold leaf or silver which had been ground to a powder. (Sloan, 2009 : 234).

11On some drawings – and in fact on most drawings of fish – White added an inscription recording the name of the thing/animal/person represented, their size or any other relevant detail, for which he used a pen and black – carbon – ink (Bescoby et alii 11).

  • 25 Ms. London, British Library, Harley 6376, fol. 10-11, contains a 17th-century description of a ‘poc (...)

12The portability of the limner’s equipment was at that time put to even greater use and profit than before in the vastly expanding world of Elizabethan England25. When read with the English increasingly frequent long-distance voyages in mind, Nicholas Hilliard’s definition of limning, which he offers in a manuscript entitled The Art of limning composed around 1598, takes on a rather strategic and topical meaning:

  • 26 Nicholas hilliard, The Arte of Limning, edited by R.K.R. Thornton & T.G.S. Cain, Ashington, Northum (...)

Now, therefore, I wish it were so that none should meddle with limning but gentlemen alone, for that it is a kind of genteel painting, of less subjection than any other ; for one may leave when he will his colors nor his work taketh any harm by it. Moreover, it is a secret : a man may use it, and scarcely be perceived of his own folk. It is sweet and cleanly to use, and it is a thing apart from all other painting or drawing, and tendeth not to common men’s use, either for furnishing of houses, or any patterns for tapestries, or building, or any other work whatsoever, and yet it excelleth all other painting whatsoever in sundry points, in giving the true luster to pearl and precious stone, and worketh the metals gold and silver with themselves, which so enricheth and ennobleth the work that it seemeth to be the thing itself, even the work of God and not of man, being fittest for the decking of princes’ books […] for the imitation of the purest flowers and most beautiful creatures in the finest and purest colors […] and is for the service of noble persons very meet, in small volumes, in private manner, for them to have the portraits and pictures of themselves, their peers, or any other foreign person which are of interest to them26. (my emphasis)

  • 27 Quoted by Katherine coombs, The Portrait Miniature in England, London, 1998: 8.

13The first thing that Hilliard explicitly insists upon, quite adamantly so, is the exceptional quality of liming as opposed to « all other painting whatsoever ». There was indeed at the time already a rather ingrained and known difference between limning and other techniques, including oil painting. A draft monopoly dated 1584 for manufacturing portraits « proposed that George Gower, the Serjeant-Painter in the Queen’s household, should have a monopoly of ‘all manner of portraits and pictures’ of the queen, ‘excepting only one Nicholas Hilliard’, who was to have the right to ‘make portraits of our body and person in small compass in limning only’«27. Although there is no evidence for the enactment of such shared monopoly, the separation between the two media and formats could not be more explicit.

3. « The thing itself » ?28

  • 28 Hilliard, 1981: 45.
  • 29 About the rising popularity of luxury albums on costly parchment (whose finer grain allowed paintin (...)

14The difference between limning and oil painting, even in portraiture, did not reside simply in the format (‘in small compass’): Hilliard considered limning « a thing apart from all other painting or drawing » because he deemed it the best medium to create an image so true to life that « it seemeth to be the thing itself, even the work of God » (Hilliard, 1981: 45). This was partly related to the fact that limning, a most curious and precise art, made for « high-definition painting », which « was particularly suited to the representation of plants and animals » (Egmond, 2018: 24)29.

  • 30 Anon, « Instructions for a Voyage of Reconnaissance to North America in 1582 or 1583 », from Ms. Lo (...)

15Following a tradition attributed to the Spanish, therefore, John White was endowed with a mission to « drawe to life all strange birds beastes fishes plantes hearbes Trees and fruictes and bring home of eache sorte as nere as you may »30. The parallel made between the pictures and the real thing which the would-be colonists were required to bring home is interesting, as it shows well how limning was supposed to complement ‘the thing itself’, to quote Hilliard again.

  • 31 I would here perhaps add the example of insects, especially luminous ones, which, like fish, proved (...)

16Although limned pictures were often perceived as conveying great likeness and resemblance to the ‘thing itself’ and often implied a part of ad vivum observation, the true extent and meaning of the phrase ‘to life’, used in the instructions to the New World painters, should not be taken at face value, or only cautiously so. As I already briefly mentioned above, we do not really know how many, or which part of White’s pictures were made during his journey, or back home, or perhaps even on board the ship on which he travelled. One thing that the fish watercolours by White do say, is that « although he clearly studied the living specimens, particularly the fish, which could be kept alive for some time in a container on board ship, White did not always paint directly from life » (Tallian, 2009: 72). When dealing with pictures of fish, knowing whether the limner painted from live or dried specimens makes a greater difference than for most other species or rarities31, for reasons related to their colours, which could affect both pictures (depending on whether they were made from live or dried specimens) and the thing itself, when specimens were brought back by travellers:

  • 32 Marlise Rijks, « Fish out of Water. Collecting Aquatic Animals in the Early Modern Period » in Fish (...)

During the sixteenth and seventeenth century, artists started to depict fish in more detail and greater numbers than ever before. […]. Some collectors amassed beautiful albums of watercolours with images of plants and animals. These functioned as complements to the actual naturalia in their collections, or, when a particular specimen was missing, as substitute for the actual object. Images and preserved specimens both had their advantages. One could argue that preserved specimens came as close to the living ‘actual thing’ as one could imagine. But even specimens are representations that would not have existed without human intervention. […] Some things were lost as a result of preservation – in the case of fish the most important thing that got lost was the original colour. Here, coloured images had an obvious advantage over preserved specimens32.

17Among White’s ‘coloured images’, viewers may have been able to tell that not all pictures were made ad vivum stricto sensu. For instance, the lookdown’s lack of iridescence (fig. 2) may be explained by the fact the specimen had been dead for some time before he limned it.

Fig. 2. John White, Moonfish Watercolour over graphite, touched with white (oxidised). © The Trustees of the British Museum.

18Its lack of colours also shows when compared with another picture of a fish belonging to the same species, whose deeper colour, which may be related to its later state of development (as colours vary depending on the age of the fish), also indicates that the ‘polometa’ (although highly oxidised), contrary to the ‘crocobado’, must have been painted from a live specimen (fig. 3).

Fig. 3. John White, Moonfish Watercolour over graphite heightened with gold and white (oxidised). © The Trustees of the British Museum.

19White was well aware of the variable colours of his subjects: in his picture of the jellyfish, for instance, the caption (« This is a lyuing fish, and flote vpon the Sea, Some call them Carvels », fig. 4) may be heard as a warning to prospective viewers, indicating that despite its near translucent colour wich may make them think otherwise, this is what a living specimen would have looked like.

Fig. 4. John White, Portuguese man-of-war Watercolour over graphite, heightened with bodycolour and white (oxidised). © The Trustees of the British Museum.

20In addition to the varying conditions of the fish White was working from, one should add that some of the beautiful subtleties used to render the depth and lustre of the colours of his subjects may have called for a « steady light source » and the peacefulness of a studio back in England, where White would not have been disturbed by « direct sun, wind or insects » (Tallian, 2009: 72): this again, points to the importance of White’s ‘post-production’, or posterior retouching.

21There are also formulaic aspects to John White’s depiction of fish which testify to his indebtedness to tradition – classical, medieval, textual and pictorial – rather than to observation alone. The very presentation of the fish depicted in the album, their lateral view, the empty background, serve as a strong hint at former and contemporary visual cultures (including illumination, portrait limning and natural history, which I discussed above) as well as emerging fashions:

  • 33 Mark Evans, with Elania Pieragostini, Renaissance Watercolours. From Dürer to Van Dyck, London, 202 (...)

Following the European encounter with the Americas, enthusiasm grew for collecting rare plants and animals. […] Between the 1530s and 1580s this fashion encouraged the seemingly objective visualization of plants and animals we now take for granted : typically and ‘ideal’ specimen, often in profile and usually without a pictorial setting33.

22White’s visual bias and formation also come under the form of what could be read as mistakes, although I would argue they are much rather clues to the historicity of vision. For instance, looking at his portrait of a soldier fish (fig. 5), one may realise that

John White seems to have in his mind’s eye that fish tails are forked, seeing them that way even when they were not in reality. He does not always take care with the smaller fins, to spread them or to depict their spines or correct number and sometimes he gets the shape of the fin wrong (perhaps because of the condition of the specimen […]). He sometimes generalizes and creates patterns that are not there in life. (Sloan, 2007 : 182)

Fig. 5. John White, Squirrel-fish or soldier-fish Watercolour over graphite, heightened with white (oxidised) and gold. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

23Besides such visual and intellectual background, which was common to many artists at the time, White was also responding to far more practical realities and needs, and knew he was not painting for the amateur of rare and strange species only. Thomas Harriot, who worked hand in hand with White and produced a written account of their journey, makes this absolutely clear on the chapter dealing with ‘fish’ of his Brief and True Report of the Newfoundland of Virginia.

  • 34 About contemporary conflicting views regarding colonization see Michael G. Moran, Inventing Virgini (...)

24John White was an active promoter of settlement and contributed to the growing genre of what Michael G. Moran has dubbed the « Renaissance commercial report » (Moran, 2007: 1). It was in his best interest and Harriot’s to try and convince potential supporters back home to settle in the New World, despite the risks associated with such ventures and adverse rumours34. Hence the need to represent Virginia as a land of plenty, its shore teeming with fish, some of them like the hermit crab added for artistic but perhaps also political purpose, to add to the throngs of beautiful fish – and therefore victuals – to appeal to the English, then faced with rampant issues of poverty, deforestation and shrinking markets at home. White’s images were therefore also meant as a field guide of sorts, and some of his fish pictures, for example, were drawn rather generally in order to make it clear and plain which species were edible and which were toxic, regardless of the peculiarities of a single individual.

25This may also explain the arrangement of drawings in the album even though there is no absolute certainty regarding whether they were assembled in this order by White himself or a later owner of the pictures. Still, it is generally assumed that the order they are now presented in more or less corresponds to the original sequence or narrative. The picture placed immediately before the series of standalone fish portraits shows fish being cooked over an open fire and is captioned « The Broyling of their fish over the flame of fier » (fig. 6).

Fig. 6. John White, Grilling fish; over a fire Watercolour over graphite, heightened with white (oxidised) and gold. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

26This image offers a visual echo of Harriot’s introduction to his section entitled ‘Of Fish’, in which fish are mainly presented as victuals, rather than curiosities, part as they of the second section in the report dealing with « such commodities as Virginia is known to yield for victual and sustenance to man’s life, usually fed upon by the natural inhabitants, and also by us during the time of our abode » (Hariot, 2007: 39):

For four months of the year, February, March, April and May, there are plenty of sturgeons : And also in the same months of herrings, some of the ordinary bigness as ours in England, but the most part far greater, of eighteen, twenty inches, and some two foot in length and better ; both these kinds of fish in those months are most plentiful, and in best season, which we found to be most delicate and pleasant food. (Hariot, 2007 : 45)

27Harriot concludes on the same note, when writing « And thus have I made relation of all sorts of victual that we fed upon for the time we were in Virginia » (Hariot, 2007: 45). The images in White’s album unfold according to a similar narrative: fish are first represented as meat, as they are grilled over the fire. The following pictures of individual specimens thus read as a logical continuation of this food-oriented opening, as viewers could not but see the catalogue of fish then depicted as a menu of sorts.

  • 35 I would like to express my sincere thanks to Florike Egmond who after reading my paper opened up fu (...)

28Viewers may only get this impression when reading the album as a narrative, with a specific order. The idea that the fish are drawn as clues to the abundance and fertility of the American land and waters is also further substantiated by the captions added to many of the portraits, which often underline the size the specimens can reach. Rather characteristically, the average or maximum size added to the caption tends to be overestimated, thus perhaps indicating that White was working towards the creation of an idealized and magnified image of Algonquian resources. White’s exaggeration of the size of potential victuals shows in his picture of a ‘dorado’ (or ‘mahi mahi’ as it is now commonly known, was then already a popular game fish, fig. 7) which does not usually reach the advertised length of 5 feet, or again the (non-edible) pigfish which could not have reached the size recorded by White (bigger specimens may have been spotted in the West Indies, but not in Carolina). The inscriptions therefore seem to complement quite nicely this idealised narrative of a fertile and bounteous nature35.

Fig. 7. John White, Dolphin Watercolour and bodycolour over graphite. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

4. From the Limner to the Fish : Water-Based Affinities

  • 36 One copy of the captioned map can be seen on the website of the Library of Congress: https://www.lo (...)

29Yet White’s pictures far exceed the captions and the report that were added to them. Some of these standalone portraits of fish show how John White was also exploiting his medium to the full, very much following in the footsteps of fellow limners such as Nicholas Hilliard, who endeavoured to achieve ‘true lustre’ and to imitate « the most beautiful creatures in the finest and purest colours ». For all their commodification, White’s fish also betray their author’s fascination for the pictorial quality of his colourful and iridescent subjects. Could it be the reason for White’s inclusion of the jellyfish among his drawings, for example? It is indeed « interesting to note that White and Harriot do not mention the animal in their accounts, probably because although it was a curiosity, it was a commonly occurring one with no potential commercial use » (Sloan, 2007: 186). Why then, were some of these species featured in the album when they do not seem to answer any commercial or curiosity-driven interest? Another question stems from the relative size of the drawings, and its relation to the size of fish themselves. As mentioned above, the supposedly real size of fish appearing in the captions is often over-estimated. This is perhaps most striking in the case of the larger-than-life ‘dorado’, which, interestingly enough, also features quite prominently on White's map of the East coast of North America (fig. 8) where the two specimens represented appear as big as whales or dolphins. Also on the map are flying fish, although the latter appear much tinier. The selection of species on the map offers another example of the various motives and aims behind White's ‘visual encyclopaedia’ (Sloan, 2007: 97). White seems to have selected them either because they would arouse wonder, curiosity or more practical interests in the viewer. The three small flying fish next to the mahi-mahi also record the fact that the latter was known to ‘chase of the flying fish’, as explained in the caption to the map of St Augustine by Boazio36.

Fig. 8. La Virgenia Pars. Map of the East coast of North America from Chesapeake bay to the Florida Keys, with arms of Sir Walter Raleigh, English vessels, dolphins, fish, whales and sea-monsters. Pen and brown ink over graphite, with watercolour, heightened with white (altered) and gold. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

30Yet the standalone picture of the flying fish in the album (277 x 234 mm) is actually bigger than the dorado (126 x 228 mm), although the latter already features among the greatest formats among the fish drawings. With its wings spread open, White's flying fish may in fact have been one of the most impressive portraits in the collection (fig. 9), although like the jellyfish, it is not mentioned in Harriot's relation. Unfortunately, the vibrant blue pigment suffered critically from the water damage and the lead white pigment (the most extensively used white pigment in 16th and 17th-century miniatures and by English limners at large) has oxidised to the point of blackening what must have been originally a wonderfully vivid demonstration of the limner's materials and techniques for rendering brightness, translucence and lustre.

Fig. 9. Flying fish; head to left. Watercolour over graphite heightened with bodycolour, silver and gold. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

  • 37 Christina Faraday takes up on this idea in “Lively Limning: Presence in Portrait Miniatures and Joh (...)

31Fish, especially those found in the regions which White was discovering, display a mesmerizing combination of colour and iridescence which may have struck John White’s partiality for lively colours. The iridescent colour in fish is produced by several types of pigment cells and silvery iridophores, which create shiny, colourful patterns. As a limner, John White worked with a similar combination of pigments (with varying degrees of depth and intensity) and iridescent additions (silver and gold). There is, therefore, a rather striking affinity between the limner’s palette and the bright colours appearing in some fish. White may have seen in the depiction of fish an opportunity to enhance the specific qualities of his materials and techniques. This may also account, among other things, for « the use of shell silver [which] must have closely replicated the effect the reflecting scales of living fish » (Sloan, 2007: 235)37.

32Sadly enough, many of the special effects created by White are now lost due to either water damage or oxidation, and although experts have tried to reconstruct the original aspect of White’s fish, the recreated images are possibly still far inferior to the original appearance of the drawings. Technical analysis, however, allows us to say that White’s careful rendition of his fish’s deep and iridescent colours may speak of more than pure commodification or political purposes, and indicate how he may have explored their aesthetic and pictorial qualities the better to enhance his own art.

  • 38 Watercolours prepared for use had been kept in mussel shells since at least the 13th century, as is (...)

33The bright colours provided by the specific techniques used by limners thus seem to have been particularly suited to the representation of fish, whose own vivid colours and iridescence were best conveyed through watercolour which allowed the preservation of their lively presence. Watercolour, in a way, became the ‘water’ milieu that these fish needed to be kept alive, if only inside the paper museum where they were captured. By swimming away from the manuscripts where they formerly swarmed in great numbers already, fish in watercolour were becoming a pictorial subject in their own right, while also acquiring visual efficacy, surging as they did, in all their lively, deep and iridescent pigments under the wet brushes of the limners. Not only had the sea always provided limners with the shells they needed to mix and prepare their pigments38, it was now also offering them their most brilliant material and subject.

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Bibliographie

Primary Sources

Hariot Thomas, A Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia. The 1590 Theodor de Bry Latin Edition. Facsimile Edition Accompanied by the Modernized English Text, published for The Library at the Mariner’s Museum, Charlottesville and London, The University of Virginia Press, 2007.

hilliard Nicholas, The Arte of Limning, edited by R. K. R. Thornton & T. G. S. Cain, Ashington, Northumberland, The Mid Northumberland Arts Group, 1981.

Hulton Paul, Quinn David Beers (eds.), The American Drawings of John White, 1577-1590, with Drawings of European and Oriental Subjects, with Contributions by W. C. Sturtevant, C. E. Raven and R. A. Skelton, London, The British Museum Press and Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press, 1964.

Muller Jeffrey M., Murrell Jim (eds.), Edward Norgate’s Miniatura or the Art of Limning, New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 1997.

Quinn David B. (ed.), The Roanoke Voyages, 1584-1590. Documents to Illustrate the English Voyages to North America under the Patent Granted to Walter Raleigh in 1584, 2 vols., The Hakluyt Society, Farnmam and Burlington, Ashgate, 1952.

Secondary Sources

Albert Jean-Pierre, Kedzierska-Manzo Agnieszka, « Des objets-signes aux objets-sujets », Archives de sciences sociales des religions, 174, 2016, p. 13-25.

Balfe Thomas (ed.), Ad Vivum? Visual Materials and the Vocabulary of Life-Likeness in Europe Before 1800, Leiden, 2019.

Bescoby Jenny, Judith Rayner, Janet Ambers and Duncan Hook, « New Visions of New World: The Conservation and Analysis of the John White Watercolours », The British Museum Technical Research Bulletin, 1, 2007, p. 9-22.

Burghartz Susanna, « Idolatry, Markets, and Confession: The Global Project of the de Bry Family », in Protestant Empires: Globalizing the Reformations, ed. by Ulinka Rublack, Cambridge, 2020, p. 140-176.

Coombs Katherine, The Portrait Miniature in England, London, 1998.

Coombs Katherine, « ‘A Kind of Gentle Painting’: Limning in 16th-Century England », in Sloan, 2009, p. 77-84.

Dickenson Victoria, Drawn From Life: Science and Art in the Portrayal of the New World, Toronto, 1998.

Dulac, Anne-Valérie, « La Luciole et le taon : Insectes et incandescence chez John White » in L'Insecte dans tous ses états, éd. Alain Montandon, Clermont-Ferrand, 2022, p. 130-134.

Egmond Florike, Eye for Detail: Images of Plants and Animals in Art and Science, 1500-1630, London, 2017.

Evans Mark, with Elania Pieragostini, Renaissance Watercolours. From Dürer to Van Dyck, London, 2020.

Goforth Reuben, Janick Jules, « Identification of New World aquatic invertebrate illustrations in The Drake Manuscript », Journal of Natural History 49, 11-12, 2015, p. 1-16.

Holbraad Martin, « The Power of Powder: Multiplicity and Motion in the Divinatory Cosmology of Cuban Ifá (or Mana, Again) », in Thinking Through Things: Theorising Artefacts Ethnographically, Amiria Henare, Martin Holbraad and Sari Wastell (eds.), Abingdon and New York, 2007, p. 189-225.

Kuhlemann Ute, « Between Reproduction, Invention and Propaganda: Theodor de Bry’s Engravings after John White’s Watercolours », in Sloan, 2007, p. 78-92.

López Luján Leonardo, « Peces y moluscos en el libro undécimo de Códice Florentino », in La Fauna en el Templo Mayor, ed. by Oscar J. Polaco, Mexico, 1993, p. 213-363.

Moran Michael G., Inventing Virginia: Sir Walter Raleigh and the Rhetoric of Colonization, 1584-1590, New York, 2007.

Perplies Helge, Inventio et repraesentatio Americae. Die India occidentalis Sammlung aus der Werkstatt de Bry, Heidelberg, 2017.

Probasco Nathan J., « American Bodies and Landscapes in Early English Colonisation », Studies in Travel Writing, 22, 2018, p. 16-38.

Quinn David Beers (ed.), A New American World: A Documentary History of North America to 1612, 5 volumes, III, New York, 1979, p. 239–245.

Rijks Marlise, « Fish out of Water. Collecting Aquatic Animals in the Early Modern Period » in Fish & Fiction. Aquatic Animals Between Science and Imagination, ed. by Marlise Rijks, Paul J. Smith and Florike Egmond, Leiden, 2018, p. 47-61.

Rubiés Joan Paul, « Text, Images and the Perception of ‘Savages’ in Early Modern Europe: What We Can Learn From White and Harriot », in Sloan, 2009, p. 120-130.

Rugheimer Alice, « John White’s Watercolours: Conservation and Mouting », in Sloan, 2009, p. 61-66.

Sloan Kim (ed.), A New World. England’s First View of America, London, 2007.

Sloan Kim (ed.), European Visions: American Voices, London, 2009.

Stallybrass Peter, « Admiranda Narratio: A European Besteller », in Hariot, 2007, p. 9-30.

Van Groesen Michiel, « The De Bry Collection of Voyages (1590-1634): Early America Reconsidered », Journal of Early Modern History, 12, 2008, p. 1-24.

Van Groesen Michiel, The Representations of the Overseas World in the De Bry Collection of Voyages 1590-1634, London - Boston, 2008.

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Notes

1 In a letter to Richard Hakluyt, John White writes the following: « Thus may you plainely perceive the successe of my fift & last voyage to Virginia, which was no lesse unfortunately ended then frowardly begun, and as luckless to many, as sinister to my selfe » (David B. Quinn, ed., The Roanoke Voyages , 1584-1590. Documents to Illustrate the English Voyages to North America under the Patent Granted to Walter Raleigh in 1584, 2 vols., The Hakluyt Society, Farnmam and Burlington, 1952, II: 715).

2 Jenny Bescoby, Judith Rayner, Janet Ambers and Duncan Hook, « New Visions of New World: The Conservation and Analysis of the John White Watercolours » (in The British Museum Technical Research Bulletin, 1, 2007, p. 9-22): 47.

3 About the attribution of the drawings to John White and the other album owned by the British Museum, see Kim Sloan (ed.), A New World. England’s First View of America, London, 2007: 224 & ff.

4 Paul Hulton and David Beers Quinn (eds.), The American Drawings of John White, 1577-1590, with Drawings of European and Oriental Subjects, with Contributions by W.C. Sturtevant, C.E. Raven and R.A. Skelton, London, 1964.

5 See Sloan, 2007 and Kim Sloan (ed.), European Visions: American Voices, London, 2009.

6 Six copies of this edition are known to survive. It is generally admitted it was printed by Robert Robinson.

7 In his address to the ‘gentle reader’, De Bry expresses his gratitude towards « Master Hakluyt of Oxford, minister of God’s word, [who] first encouraged me to publish the work » (Thomas Hariot, A Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia. The 1590 Theodor de Bry Latin Edition. Facsimile Edition Accompanied by the Modernized English Text, published for The Library at the Mariner’s Museum, Charlottesville and London: 59), while we learn from the German edition of India Occidentalis that he initially planned to publish the French reports as an introduction to the collection (see Michiel van Groesen, « The De Bry Collection of Voyages (1590-1634): Early America Reconsidered », Journal of Early Modern History, 12, 2008, p. 1-24 and The Representations of the Overseas World in the De Bry Collection of Voyages 1590-1634, London and Boston, 2008: 112 & ff.). For convenience sake, I will be referring to de Bry only when mentioning his Voyages, although it should be noted that the actual production of the Virginia volume was very much a collective endeavor involving a number of contributors, including « the original author Thomas Hariot, the designers John White, and, in one instance, Joos van Winghe, [as well as] three translators […], Richard Hakluyt (from Latin into English), Charles de l’Écluse, also known as Clusius (into Latin and French), and a translator only known as Christ[off] P. (into German). The engravings were made by Theodor de Bry and his sons, and in four instances by Gysbrecht van Veen. According to the title page, the book (i.e. the letterpress) was printed by Johannis Wechel, and sold by Sigmund Feyerabend. » (Ute Kuhlemann, « Between Reproduction, Invention and Propaganda: Theodor de Bry’s Engravings after John White’s Watercolours », in Sloan, 2007: 82).

8 The term is used repeatedly in Hariot’s relation.

9 Peter Stallybrass, « Admiranda Narratio: A European Besteller » (in Hariot, 2007, p. 9-30): 14. See also, regarding the intended readership of this confessional-cum-market-oriented collection, Helge Perplies's recent reassessment of how the de Brys were addressing a wide European transnational market across confessional lines (Perplies 2017).

10 About the representation of animals in De Bry’s whole collection, see van Groesen, The Representations of the Overseas, 2008: 49 & ff. Van Groesen argues that the De Brys « did not illustrate the variety of animal life in the overseas world, but instead used selected species as a means to construct alterity, and did so quite methodically » (155). Only few sea creatures are represented in the collection, the most famous one being the second illustration of India Orientalis IV (ill. 10), devoted to giant crabs from the Indian Ocean. The much-exaggerated size and number of crabs appearing in the engraving exemplifies how the publishers were using pictures of animals the better to insist upon the difference between Europe and the ‘others’ (« The publishers thus exploited the implicit notion of harmless European crabs by juxtaposing it with a plague of monstrous crabs abroad », ibid.). In his general conclusion, Van Groesen explicitly attributes « the omission of John White’s illustrations of the natural world » to De Bry’s Eurocentric ‘selectiveness’ (381).

11 A scan of the engraving can be seen on the website of the Arts Museums of Colonial Williamsburg: https://emuseum.history.org/objects/30466/one-of-the-chief-ladies-of-secota (last opened 12 March 2022).

12 A searchable reproduction of the engraving can be seen on the website of the Schoenberg Center for Electronic Text and Image, http://sceti.library.upenn.edu/sceti/printedbooksNew/index.cfm?TextID=hariot&PagePosition=69 (last opened 10 March 2022).

13 I here reproduce the captions written by Sloan for all images used, which are available on the British Museum website as well as in Sloan 2007.

14 White's picture of a land crab can be seen at the following location: https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/P_1906-0509-1-56/ White’s sea, although slightly less plentiful than de Bry’s version, is still very much an idealized version of what he must have witnessed: « it is doubtful that the sea ever proved quite as easy to harvest and as plentiful as John White depicts here or the even more bounteous scene in de Bry’s engraving intended to encourage English colonists. » (Sloan, 2007: 108). Some of the species drawn also seem to have been added for artistic effect, as is the case for the hermit crabs, which White had seen in the West Indies but not in Roanoke, for instance.

15 Victoria Dickenson, Drawn From Life: Science and Art in the Portrayal of the New World, Toronto, 1998: 62.

16 Reuben Goforth and Jules Janick, « Identification of New World aquatic invertebrate illustrations in The Drake Manuscript », Journal of Natural History, 49, 11-12, 2015, p. 1-16: 13.

17 About the differences between de Bry and White see also Nathan J. probasco, « American Bodies and Landscapes in Early English Colonisation », Studies in Travel Writing, 22, 2018, p. 16-38.

18 Joan Paul Rubiés, « Text, Images and the Perception of ‘Savages’ in Early Modern Europe: What We Can Learn From White and Harriot » (in sloan, 2009, p. 120-130): 129.

19 The engraving of White's watercolours still testifies to the de Brys' emphasis on the « particular emphasis of the skilful artistic portrayal of God's wonders. » (burghartz, 2020: 176). Susanna Burghartz has recently explored the visual affinities between « the indigenous gold workers who artfully emulated flora and fauna in a paradisiacal pleasure garden for their rulers » and the de Brys' « own work as vividly presenting the miracles of divine Creation to their readers […]. » (burghartz, 2020: 173). While she explores « the particular skill of the engravers that lent their pictures an almost magical quality as media, while at the same time placing them in notable proximity to the idolatrous practices of other peoples. » (174), I will here be exploring watercolour's own ‘magical quality’, instead of engraving, when it comes to the depiction of fish in particular.

20 I am most grateful to Bérénice Gaillemin (J. Paul Getty Museum) for pointing out that in some instances, explorers and settlers entrusted one or several indigenous artists with this mission or required their help and assistance: such was the case for illustrations in the Florentine Codex, a lavishly illustrated bilingual encyclopedia (Nahuatl-Spanish) about central Mexical Nahua culture, consisting in 12 illuminated books (completed around 1576). The collaboration of indigenous and European artists resulted in the essential hybridity of illustrations, many of which depict more or less realistic fish, some of them illuminated (« no existen ilustraciones estilísticamente 'puras' sino híbridas con mayor or menos influencia europea or indígena », Leonardo López Luján, « Peces y moluscos en el libro undécimo de Códice Florentino », in La Fauna en el Templo Mayor, ed. by Oscar J. Polaco, Mexico, 1993, p. 213-363: 248).

21 About the material and technical connections between the garnishing of diplomatic correspondence and the painting of portrait miniatures, see Anne-Valérie Dulac, « Limning as Gift-Giving: Embellishing Letters to ‘Eastern Princes’ and ‘Remote Kings’« , https://mhma.hypotheses.org/1444 (last opened March 3, 2022).

22 Katherine Coombs, « ‘A Kind of Gentle Painting’: Limning in 16th-Century England », in Sloan, 2009, p. 77-84): 81.

23 See Bescoby et. al, 2007 and Timea Tallian , « John White’s Materials and Techniques », in Sloan, 2009, p. 72-76).

24 Alice rugheimer, « John White’s Watercolours: Conservation and Mouting » (in Sloan, 2009, p. 61-66): 61.

25 Ms. London, British Library, Harley 6376, fol. 10-11, contains a 17th-century description of a ‘pocket deske’ which could be used by portrait limners and, could apply, with the exception of some elements, to the kind of portable device which White may have carried around: « And because you should not be unfurnished with things necessary to take a picture from home as well as at home, be pleased to have in readiness such a Box as I contrived for myself, of 6 inches Long and 3 inches broad & 2 inches deepe that you may carry it in your pocket […]. », quoted by Jeffrey M. Muller and Jim Murrell (eds.), Edward Norgate’s Miniatura or the Art of Limning, New Haven and London, 1997: 241.

26 Nicholas hilliard, The Arte of Limning, edited by R.K.R. Thornton & T.G.S. Cain, Ashington, Northumberland, 1981: 43-45. In this definition, Hilliard's description of limning's aims and destination comes close to the later de Bry’s defence of their visual propaganda: « The LORD GOD, however, has revealed to Man / the art of painting among others / also engraving, etching, and their allied arts / to render his wonders slightly / because things can be placed before our eyes thereby / that occurred many thousands of miles away […] for although they / can be revealed to us many times in print / they nevertheless remain dead or obscure / if they are not illuminated and brought to life through this art […] » (quoted in Burghartz, 2020: 174, my emphasis).

27 Quoted by Katherine coombs, The Portrait Miniature in England, London, 1998: 8.

28 Hilliard, 1981: 45.

29 About the rising popularity of luxury albums on costly parchment (whose finer grain allowed painting in extremely fine detail), see Florike Egmond, Eye for Detail: Images of Plants and Animals in Art and Science, 1500-1630, London, 2017 and her analysis of « the first Dürer Renaissance » in Europe (24-25).

30 Anon, « Instructions for a Voyage of Reconnaissance to North America in 1582 or 1583 », from Ms. London, British Library, Add. 38823, fol. 1–8, transcribed in David Beers Quinn (ed.), A New American World: A Documentary History of North America to 1612, 5 volumes, III, New York, 1979, p. 239-245.

31 I would here perhaps add the example of insects, especially luminous ones, which, like fish, proved equally brilliant subjects for the limner. See my forthcoming chapter on White's picture of a firefly and gadfly, « La Luciole et le taon: Insectes et incandescence chez John White » in L'Insecte dans tous ses états, éd. Alain Montandon, Clermont-Ferrand, 2022, p. 130-134.

32 Marlise Rijks, « Fish out of Water. Collecting Aquatic Animals in the Early Modern Period » in Fish & Fiction. Aquatic Animals Between Science and Imagination, ed. by Marlise Rijks, Paul J. Smith and Florike Egmond, Leiden, 2018, p. 47-61: 50-5. See also the difference sometimes noted by authors and/or artists between ‘fresh bodies’ and ‘dried specimens’ in Thomas Balfe, Ad Vivum? Visual Materials and the Vocabulary of Life-Likeness in Europe Before 1800, Leiden, 2019: 104-105. This, again, further confirms the ‘near-magical quality’ (burghartz, 2020: 174) of watercolour as a medium in which to represent fish. The preserved life of fish in watercolour thus renews the figure/medium nexus in things, as has been suggested in recent anthropological discussions of ‘material culture’. See for instance Martin Holbraad's « The Power of Powder: Multiplicity and Motion in the Divinatory Cosmology of Cuban Ifá (or Mana, Again) », in Thinking Through Things: Theorising Artefacts Ethnographically, Amiria Henare, Martin Holbraad and Sari Wastell (eds.), Abingdon and New York, 2007, p. 189-225. His use of ‘motility’ to better grasp the link between concept and thing seems particularly enlightening when looking into fish and attempts at preserving their motile life through representation. This also resonates with the ‘efficacy of signs’ as discussed from a material perspective by Jean-Pierre Albert and Agnieszka Kedzierska-Manzo, « Des objets-signes aux objets-sujets », Archives de sciences sociales des religions, 174, 2016, p. 13-25.

33 Mark Evans, with Elania Pieragostini, Renaissance Watercolours. From Dürer to Van Dyck, London, 2020: 105. The combination of visual and artistic traditions with a more recent interest in a true-to-life representation even showed in the evolution of biblical paintings. The ubiquitous fish in the Christian tradition had given rise to an already long pictorial tradition (and their Christian symbolism may also feature rather prominently behind their presence in both White and de Bry's works). Interestingly enough, from the second half of the 16th century onwards, some artists like Maerten de Vos added « a pictorial ‘up-dating’ of the knowledge about nature » within their rendering of the Creation. Paul J. Smith, « 'All Creatures of the Sea': Fish in Bible and Emblem Books », in Fish & Fiction. Aquatic Animals Between Science and Imagination, ed. by Marlise Rijks, Paul J. Smith and Florike Egmond, Leiden, 2018, p. 5-21: 5. The text and illustrations thereof can be accessed online (https://www.leidenartsinsocietyblog.nl/articles/1-all-creatures-of-the-sea-fish-in-bible-and-emblem-books, last opened March 5, 2022).

34 About contemporary conflicting views regarding colonization see Michael G. Moran, Inventing Virginia: Sir Walter Raleigh and the Rhetoric of Colonization, 1584-1590, New York, 2007.

35 I would like to express my sincere thanks to Florike Egmond who after reading my paper opened up further paths of inquiry regarding the historical evolution of body size in fish populations due to human impact.

36 One copy of the captioned map can be seen on the website of the Library of Congress: https://www.loc.gov/resource/gdcwdl.wdl_03936/?r=0.66,0.609,0.519,0.26,0 (last opened July 18, 2022).

37 Christina Faraday takes up on this idea in “Lively Limning: Presence in Portrait Miniatures and John White’s Images of the New World” (British Art Studies, Issue 17, https://doi.org/10.17658/issn.2058-5462/issue-17/cfaraday, September 2020). See paragraph 19 in particular.

38 Watercolours prepared for use had been kept in mussel shells since at least the 13th century, as is attested by many medieval depictions of painters. « Both freshwater and sea mussels were used, but the latter needed to be carefully desalinated » (Muller & Murrell, 1997: 124). In some instances, oysters may have been used as well.

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Table des illustrations

Légende Fig. 1. John White, Indians fishing; variety of aquatic life in water, birds flying overhead, in foreground canoe carrying four figures and fish, beyond two figures spear fishing and stretch of water fenced off, in distance another boat. Watercolour touched with gold13. © The Trustees of the British Museum.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/rursuspicae/docannexe/image/2198/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 861k
Légende Fig. 2. John White, Moonfish Watercolour over graphite, touched with white (oxidised). © The Trustees of the British Museum.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/rursuspicae/docannexe/image/2198/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 605k
Légende Fig. 3. John White, Moonfish Watercolour over graphite heightened with gold and white (oxidised). © The Trustees of the British Museum.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/rursuspicae/docannexe/image/2198/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 547k
Légende Fig. 4. John White, Portuguese man-of-war Watercolour over graphite, heightened with bodycolour and white (oxidised). © The Trustees of the British Museum.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/rursuspicae/docannexe/image/2198/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 377k
Légende Fig. 5. John White, Squirrel-fish or soldier-fish Watercolour over graphite, heightened with white (oxidised) and gold. © The Trustees of the British Museum.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/rursuspicae/docannexe/image/2198/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 494k
Légende Fig. 6. John White, Grilling fish; over a fire Watercolour over graphite, heightened with white (oxidised) and gold. © The Trustees of the British Museum.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/rursuspicae/docannexe/image/2198/img-6.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 698k
Légende Fig. 7. John White, Dolphin Watercolour and bodycolour over graphite. © The Trustees of the British Museum.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/rursuspicae/docannexe/image/2198/img-7.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 477k
Légende Fig. 8. La Virgenia Pars. Map of the East coast of North America from Chesapeake bay to the Florida Keys, with arms of Sir Walter Raleigh, English vessels, dolphins, fish, whales and sea-monsters. Pen and brown ink over graphite, with watercolour, heightened with white (altered) and gold. © The Trustees of the British Museum.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/rursuspicae/docannexe/image/2198/img-8.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 645k
Légende Fig. 9. Flying fish; head to left. Watercolour over graphite heightened with bodycolour, silver and gold. © The Trustees of the British Museum.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/rursuspicae/docannexe/image/2198/img-9.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 742k
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Référence électronique

Anne-Valérie Dulac, « Fish in Watercolour : John White’s Lively Specimens »RursuSpicae [En ligne], 4 | 2022, mis en ligne le 12 décembre 2022, consulté le 23 juin 2024. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/rursuspicae/2198 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/rursuspicae.2198

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Auteur

Anne-Valérie Dulac

Maître de conférences en études élisabéthaines à Sorbonne Université. Ses recherches et publications portent sur le portrait miniature et les productions aquarellées dans l'Angleterre élisabéthaine et jacobéenne, ainsi que sur les supports dérivés du monde animal employés dans la portraiture en petit volume (cire, vélin, ivoire).

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Le texte et les autres éléments (illustrations, fichiers annexes importés), sont « Tous droits réservés », sauf mention contraire.

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