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Mark Catesby Volume II

Plates from Volume II of Mark Catesby's Natural History of Carolina, Florida & the Bahama Islands

CATESBY, Mark (1683 – 1749) Vol.II, Tab. 84, Philadelphus flore albo

CATESBY, Mark (1683 – 1749) Vol.II, Tab. 84, Philadelphus flore albo

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Painted and etched by Mark Catesby (1638 - 1749)
Etching with hand color, paper dimensions: approximately 14 x 19 inches
From Volume II, Part 10 of Catesby's Natural History of Carolina, Florida & the Bahama Islands
London: 1743 - 1771

Currently known as the luna moth (and cocoon), Actias luna, scentless mock-orange, Philadelphus inodorus, and common hop-tree, Ptelea trifoliata*, Catesby described these subjects as follows:

PHILADELPHUS flore albo majore inodoro.

This is a small Tree, rising to the Height of about sixteen Feet or upwards, with a slender Trunc; the Wood hard and brittle, from the larger upright Stalks grow smaller ones horizontally and opposite to one another, on which are placed the Leaves by Pairs, shaped like those of a Pear; At the ends of these smaller Stalks were also placed the Flowers, growing usually two or three together on Footstalks of about an inch long. These Flowers are composed of four white Petals, adorn'd in the Middle with a Tuft of thrummy Stamina, a Triple Stilus, and crowned with yellow Apices.

These Flowers are succeeded by round mucronated Capsulas, containing many small Seeds in Cells divided by thin Membranes. The only Tree of this kind I ever saw, was growing on the Bank of the Savana River near its Cataracts.

SMILAX non Spinosa baccis rubris.

These Plants are always supported by Trees and Shrubs, on which they creep and clasp with their Tendrils, the Leaves are long and narrow at both Ends; they are thick, stiff, and shining, with a single Rib in the Middle, and are set alternately at wide Distances. At the Ends of the smaller Branches are produced hexapetalous greenish white Flowers which grow in umbelliferous Tufts, and are succeeded by globular mucilaginous red Berries, each Berry containing a very hard round Stone. These Plants with their glittering Scarlet Fruit, and by retaining their green Leaves, make an elegant appearance all the Winter, at which Season the Berries serve as Food to Thrushes and other Birds, and the whole Plant as a warm shelter for them in that cold Season: They grow in Bogs and watery Land in Carolina.

PHALAENA plumata caudata, Caroliniana, virescens oculata. Pet. Mus. P. 69. No. 733.

The four Eye'd Night Butterfly.

The Body of this is dusky white, except that near the Head, is a transverse Stripe of Copper Colour, its Legs are Copper Colour; the Antennae broad pointed at the Ends, and pinnated; the Ground Colour of all the Wings is greenish yellow, the upper Edge of the two upper Wings are verged with Copper Colour, as are the exterior Edges of all four Wings: In the Middle of every Wing is a Spot resembling an Eye, the Sight of which is transparent like lzing-glass; the Place of the Iris is a white Border below, and a red one above, joined to a Lift of black of equal Length. The singular Form of the lower Wings seem to distinguish it from all other Butterflies. The Chryssalises of these Flies are found in Winter hanging pendant to the Twigs of leafless Trees of an oval Form and silky Consistance.

These Flies are found in Virginia, Carolina, Maryland, and Philadelphia, &c.

Mark Catesby (1683 – 1749)

Facts regarding Catesby’s early years are scant. It is known that he was born in the ancient market town of Sudbury, England to a father who was a legal practitioner and mayor of Sudbury and to a mother from an old Essex family.  It seems that he received an understanding of Latin and French and was familiar with the eminent naturalist Reverend John Ray. Following his father’s death, he was endowed with the means to pursue his interest in the natural history of North America.

Catesby arrived in Virginia in 1712 as the guest of his sister and her husband, Dr. William Cocke, an aid the Governor of the colony.  Soon he was acquainted with the well-connected William Byrd, a Fellow of the Royal Society whose diary contains passages discussing Catesby’s strong curiosity with all things relating to North America. 

This included plants native to the fields and woods of Virginia through which Catesby traveled, collecting examples of botanical specimens unfamiliar in England, which he illustrated and sent back to his uncle, Nicholas Jekyll and the apothecary and botanist, Samuel Dale.

Catesby’s first trip to the New World was extensive and included a visit to Jamaica. Although he felt that his approach to a larger understanding of its natural history was lacking in structure, his experience would inform his future expeditions. 

Following his return to London in 1719 Catesby resolved to return to the colonies and gather additional information for his illustrated Natural History... He gained the financial support of members of the local scientific community, many of who were members of the Royal Society keen to send a naturalist to Carolina who could provide an accurate account of its resources.  Among those who belonged to the Royal Society was William Sherard, who after examining Catesby’s drawings, was key in advancing the project. With further backing by Sir Hans Sloane, court physician and naturalist whose collection would form the basis for The British Museum, Catesby sailed to Carolina in 1722.

Catesby’s four years of travels following his second arrival in North America brought him throughout South Carolina, parts of Georgia, and the Bahamas. He was 

intent on visiting the same location at different times throughout the year in order to observe his subjects as they developed. In addition to gathering botanical specimens of potential horticultural importance, he also acquired birds and other creatures.  

Catesby’s patrons in London were eager to receive examples of the varieties of plants and animals he encountered but collecting, packaging, and sending them back to England served as a distraction to his intended Natural History...  Nevertheless, he continued to observe, paint, and write descriptions of the previously un-investigated wildlife he encountered on the shores and in the swamps, woods, and fields of the middle American colonies.

Catesby returned to England from his final voyage to America in 1726 and spent the next seventeen years preparing his Natural History... He envisioned his work containing colored plates reproducing his studies from nature in a substantial, folio-sized format, an achievement nearly unprecedented in earlier natural history publications. Catesby arranged for financing in the form of an interest-free loan from the Quaker Peter Collinson, a fellow of the Royal Society. Nevertheless, the cost of paying professionals to prepare his delineations on copper plates for printing was too great. To this end, with the assistance of Joseph Goupy (1689–1769), a French artist living in London, he taught himself to etch.  In addition to producing nearly all of the plates for his publication, Catesby closely supervised the coloring of the engravings, either painting the impressions himself or closely overseeing the work to insure its fidelity to his preparatory work. To further finance the project Catesby sold subscriptions, offering his book in sections of 20 plates to be published every four months.

The first volume of Natural History of Carolina, Florida & the Bahama Islands, containing one hundred plates, was completed in 1731 and no doubt facilitated his election as a fellow of the Royal Society in February, 1733. The second volume, also containing one hundred plates, was finished in 1743 and was supplemented with twenty plates based on information sent to Catesby by John Bartram and others in in America appeared in 1746–1747. Of the approximately 180 - 200 copies of the first edition produced, roughly 80 copies remain complete and accounted for and there are an unknown number in private collections. A second edition was issued by George Edwards in 1754 and a third edition, published by Benjamin White, in 1771 who continued to print examples of the plates until at least 1816. As early as 1749 editions were produced for the European market with translations of the text in German, Latin, and Dutch. In these the plates for the first volume and appendix were re-etched by Johann Michael Seligmann and the plates for the second volume re-etched by Nicolaus Friedrich Eisenberger and Georg Lichtensteger.  

Catesby’s tenacity resulted in a sweeping and compelling study of American plants, animals, and marine life native to little documented lands in which he strove to assign scientific nomenclature to his subjects. Indeed, Linnaeus, in his 1758 Systema Naturae, made use of much information brought to light by Catesby using it as the foundation of his system of binomial nomenclature for American species.

Throughout the production of his Natural History…Catesby lived in London with his Elizabeth Rowland with whom he had four children and married in 1747, before his death in 1749.

*From James L. Reveal’s Identification of the plants and animals illustrated by Mark Catesby for The natural history of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama islands in the appendix of The Curious Mr. Catesby, University of Georgia Press.

Description compiled by Erik Brockett who is pleased to provide additional information relating to this or other examples of the work of Mark Catesby available at Arader Galleries. He can be contacted at erikbrockett@aradergalleries.com

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