Hand-Colored Etching. 14in. x 20in. 1743.
Gift of Charles Gignilliant, Jr.
In 1722 Englishman Mark Catesby sailed to a sparsely settled, one-year-old Royal Colony. The colony, which occupied the extreme edge of western civilization, was still only a year old and mostly a lawless wilderness populated by venomous plants and animals unknown to science. The few settlements within its borders were constantly under attack from Native American raiding parties, Spanish & French militia, and Pirate fleets. Only four years before, Catesby’s visit the colony’s only notable port had been blockaded by notorious pirate Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard. The city in question was called Charleston, after King Charles the Second of England and the colony in which it was situated was called South Carolina, after King Charles the First. England’s foremost association of scientists, naturalists, and philosophers, then chaired by the man credited with discovering gravity – Isaac Newton – financed Catesby’s voyage to this exotic and dangerous backwater, in order to bring whatever strange and unknown creatures inhabited it to light.
For four years, Catesby traveled the length and breadth of South Carolina as well as portions of Georgia and the Bahamas. He described mysterious, fabulously strange places and wildlife. Among them, ‘swamps where coniferous trees lost their needles in winter, dense maritime forests of oaks that stayed green year-round, endless salt marshes where grasses drifted in the wind to the horizon…massive buffaloes, exotically colored frogs, ducks that nested in trees, giant butterflies, bald-headed eagles, giant-leaved foul-smelling trees.’ All these he meticulously catalogued and painted by hand, eventually collecting into a single volume book called Natural History of Carolina, Florida, & the Bahama Islands. Catesby was the first to observe that birds migrate in winter, as opposed to sleeping at the bottom of frozen ponds, as was commonly believed at the time. 160 copies of Catesby’s revelatory Natural History were produced for its first edition, each of which was hand-colored by the naturalist himself – of these, only 80 have survived to the present day.
SAM is privileged to have a few of Catesby’s orginal works. Pictured here is Page XLI (41) of Natural History of Carolina, Florida, & the Bahama Islands, “Vipera Caudisona”. Catesby said of the creature, "Of these vipers, the Rattle Snake is most formidable, being the largest and most terrible of all the rest. The largest I ever saw was one about eight feet in length, weighing between eight and nine pounds." Catesby's "Vipera Caudisona" is now known as Crotalus Horridus, the Timber Rattlesnake. He was the first naturalist to observe it.
SAM is funded in part by The Arts Partnership of Greater Spartanburg and its donors, the County and City of Spartanburg, and the South Carolina Arts Commission which receives support from The National Endowment for the Arts.