Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Exquisite Manuscript Florilegia of Jacques le Moyne

One of the rare Jewels to be found in the collections of both the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London are sixteenth manuscript florilegium of wildflowers and fruits painted by Jacques le Moyne de Morgues. Only five compendiums to date have been identified as original works by le Moyne, the finest of which can be found at Arader Galleries.

Le Moyne, a French Huguenot, best known for his vivid account of the ill fated 1564 transatlantic voyage to Florida which he accompanied as official artist and cartographer to the French King Charles IX, ended his career in Elizabethan London as a highly regarded botanical artist whose patrons included Sir Walter Raleigh and Lady Mary Sidney. Le Moyne was among a rare and exclusive group of 16th century botanical artists who specialized in the creation of florilegia, most of which were printed, however a small number of such works commissioned by wealthy aristocrats, were painted by hand. Le Moyne was among the first artists to revive the practice of drawing from nature and working from real plants instead of following the tradition of copying from earlier botanical illustrations. A shining example is Le Moyne’s watercolor of the wild strawberry, exhibiting delicately upturned and curling leaves, subtle gradations in stem color and exquisitely imperfect strawberries shown in varying stages of ripeness, all of which strongly suggest that he was in fact working from a live plant specimen. Versions of Le Moyne’s magnificent Wild Strawberry are included in the compendiums held at the Victoria and Albert Museum,

the British Museum, and the collection at Arader Galleries.

Image from the Victoria and Albert Museum

The Wild Strawberry watercolor at the Victoria and Albert Museum is most likely the earliest of the albums, probably painted in Paris after he returned from his expedition to Florida in 1566 and before he fled to London in 1572. This album is thought to have been intended to serve as a design reference for jewelry, embroidery and other crafts. Le Moyne has included a magnificent female emperor moth which he edited from the composition in later works. This is the largest format of the three albums, and generally the watercolors are of entire plants, and sometimes contain incomplete sketches. It seems Le Moyne was less concerned with overall composition and more focused on realistically portraying the natural details of the various specimens.

Image from the British Museum

The Le Moyne Album at the British Museum, completed in London in 1585, is probably the latest of the three works. The Wild Strawberry watercolor in this album considerably more stylized than the version at the Victoria and Albert museum and has been lined with a red ink border, consistent with the accompanying watercolors in this compendium. Le Moyne has altered and tightened the composition by editing the least visually interesting components of the plant to fit within the border.

The Le Moyne Album at Arader Galleries is by far the most lavish and deluxe version when compared to the collections at the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum. The paper has been prepared as vellum to give a subtle sheen and the exquisitely illustrated flowering and fruiting plants are composed with in a distinctively sumptuous gold leaf border. Le Moyne retains the fine and delicate detail found in the collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum while employing his elegant understanding of composition to frame the illustrations within the border to create a more compact and arresting overall image.

If you would like more information, or the chance to view this magnificent 16th century manuscript by one of the most exceptional botanical artists of the 16th century, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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