Part art, part science, part anthropology, this ambitious project presents an early Canadian perspective on natural history that is as much artistic and fantastical as it is encyclopedic.
Edited and introduced by Francois-Marc Gagnon, The Codex Canadensis and the Writings of Louis Nicolas showcases an intriguing attempt to document the life of the new world - flora, fauna, and aboriginal. The book brings together for the first time the illustrated Codex Canadensis and The Natural History of the New World, following Gagnon's argument that both can be attributed to Louis Nicolas, a French Jesuit priest who travelled throughout Canada between 1664 and 1675. Histoire Naturelle des Indes Occidentales, originally written in classical French, has been put in modern French by Real Ouellet and translated into English by Nancy Senior.
The Natural History presents a pre-Linnaean botany and pre-Darwinian account of living things, including hundreds of species of plants and vivid descriptions of wildlife.
It is thoroughly annotated, focusing on the contemporary identification of species, as the result of a pan-Canadian collaboration of experts in fields from linguistics to biology and botany.
The Codex Canadensis, currently in the collection of the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma, is reproduced in full and provides both a fascinating visual account of wildlife as Nicolas saw it and a rare example of early Canadian art.
Gagnon's introduction profiles Louis Nicolas and analyses connections between his work and European examples of natural illustration from the period. The Codex Canadensis and the Writings of Louis Nicolas shows how the wildlife and native inhabitants of the new world were understood and documented by a seventeenth-century European and makes available fundamental documents in the history and visual culture of early North America.