Impressive if necessarily incomplete biography of a 16th-century French artist who survived both deprivation and Spanish attacks to produce stunning, controversial images of the New World.
Harvey (The Island of Lost Maps: A True Story of Cartographic Crime, 2000) reports that his peripatetic research into the life and work of Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues (1533–88) was alternately exhilarating and frustrating. For nearly every shred of information about Le Moyne that the author was able to coax from history’s unyielding fingers, there were much larger pieces he could not get. Still, his discoveries are intriguing. Le Moyne sailed for Florida with a French expedition in 1564, charged with making a visual record of all they encountered. He was better at illustration than cartography, Harvey shows; Le Moyne’s fanciful map of Florida is a hoot. Even his astonishing engravings of the local Timucua Indians are controversial, as they occasionally show the Timucua practicing European methods of cultivation or brandishing weapons unknown in North America at the time. The author attributes some of these inaccuracies to Dutch engraver Theodor de Bry, whose copper-plate reproductions alone remain of Le Moyne’s Florida work. Harvey devotes much of his text to the brief but bloody Florida period, described in accounts by several survivors of the Spanish slaughter aimed at eliminating France’s tentative toehold in the New World. He then shifts focus to Le Moyne’s post-Florida career and the rediscovery of his work centuries later. The Calvinist artist fled France during a period of Catholic brutality in the 1580s and moved to the Blackfriars region of London, where he produced a lovely book of plant illustrations and served as consultant to yet another man with vast, ultimately unrealized New World visions, Sir Walter Raleigh. Harvey spends the final pages on those who rescued Le Moyne from obscurity.
Insatiable curiosity and fierce pursuit of fact combine to create a graceful exploration of worlds old and new.