Sunday, April 5, 2015
John White, Map of part of the east coast of North America, 1585
Two curious instances of artists turning cartographer come from the early European settlement of the east coast of the United States. When the French decided to establish a colony on the Saint John's River (in Florida) in 1564, they recruited Jacques Le Moyne, Sieur de Morgues. Until then he had been, as Quinn puts it, 'trained to paint flowers and fruit in the manner of traditional miniaturists', but on the expedition 'he had perforce to become a cartographer and found himself making sketches of river entries and eventually compiling a general map of the areas the French reached'. This map was eventually printed by Theodor de Bry in America, part I (1591), together with a dozen or so of the sketches of smaller areas. The manuscript original of the map has not survived, but from the printed copy it is clear that Le Moyne was quite capable of offering a novel and reasonably accurate delineation of a part of the coast that until then had not been well known to Europeans
Much the same could be said of John White, who as a journeyman painter accompanied Martin Frobisher on the voyage to Baffin Island in 1577. There he made excellent sketches of Eskimos, which is no doubt why he was then assigned to Sir Walter Raleigh's expedition to Virginia in 1585. Here he collaborated with Thomas Harriott upon a quite extensive mapping programme, from which several manuscript maps and sketches survive. The area round the Outer Banks, which White knew personally, is best shown, but the delineation of Florida and the islands is also passable. Like Le Moyne, White seems to have been able to switch quite easily from one mode of representation to the other: as Svetlana Alpers puts it, mapping was still 'a casually acquired skill. We do not know much about White's later life, but he does not seem to have drawn any more maps; as for Le Moyne, having escaped the murderous Spanish attack upon the French settlement, he went back to his exquisite studies of plants and insects.