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ARCHIVED - Codex canadensis

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Library and Archives Canada (LAC), in partnership with the Gilcrease Museum and the Gail and Stephen A. Jarislowsky Institute for Studies in Canadian Art, is pleased to present the virtual exhibition Codex canadensis, featuring Louis Nicolas's exquisite illustrated manuscript (ca.1700) about the flora, fauna and peoples of the New World.

This digitized collection contains images of 180 drawings that depict the Aboriginal peoples of North America as well as the fauna and flora of New France in the late 17th century. The original drawings, done on parchment with brown ink or brown ink and watercolour, are now held by the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

In Nicolas's manuscript, 53 plates are devoted to natural history. They illustrate 18 plants, 67 mammals, 56 birds, 33 fish and about 10 reptiles, batrachians and insects. In addition, a large number of sketches and drawings depict objects made by the Aboriginal peoples of North America. Of particular interest are the portraits of Aboriginal peoples belonging to some 15 nations. No other iconographic document of such antiquity illustrates so exactly the paintings and tattoos with which Aboriginal peoples of North America decorated their bodies during the late 17th century.

Pictorial representations of New France from that time are extremely rare, which makes the Codex canadensis an invaluable document. LAC's presentation of this fascinating manuscript in digital format allows these delicate pages, too fragile for general consultation, to be viewed by everyone.

On this site, we invite you to learn about the history of this document, and to view Codex canadensis.