The King’s Map:

  • Posted: Dec 4, 2012


François le Vaillant in Southern Africa, 1781-1784

Hayden Proud, Project Manager, Iziko Museums of South Africa and Ian Glenn, Project Curator at the King’s Map. Photograph by Iziko Museums Photographer, Carina Beyer


Iziko South African Museum from 30 November 2012 until 26 May 2013

25 Queen Victoria Street Cape Town

A unique map of South Africa produced 222 years ago for King Louis XVI, and never before exhibited, will form the centre-piece of the exhibition, The King’s Map, Francois le Vaillant in Southern Africa: 1781 -1784. The exhibition, on show at the Iziko South African Museum until 26 May 2013, forms part of the prestigious ‘French Season’ - the multifaceted bilateral collaboration between France and South Africa.

Recognised as the first significant modern ornithologist, French traveller and social critic François le Vaillant spent the years 1781 to 1784 in southern Africa. “Iziko Museums has its own special connection to the life of Le Vaillant at the Cape. One of its museums, Rust en Vreugd, a splendid late 18th century townhouse in Buitenkant Street, Cape Town, once provided accommodation for Le Vaillant and it was here that for a time he catalogued his collections of natural history; and from here that he left on expeditions into the interior,” says Ms Rooksana Omar, Chief Executive Officer Iziko Museums of South Africa.

Le Vaillant created a window on southern Africa through his writings, watercolours and maps that vividly depict both nature and human interaction at that time. Notably, Le Vaillant was a free thinking all-rounder, whose keen interest in the world included not only nature and art, but the social conditions experienced by the local people he engaged with.

The exhibition will focus on one of his most outstanding contributions, a multi-media map - nearly 3 x 2 meters – painted on silk for King Louis XVI of France. The map, a record of biodiversity and animal distribution in South Africa, shows the route he travelled and contains 66 illustrations of animals, birds, and plants. It also includes panels showing different indigenous tribes he encountered. Le Vaillant's influence on the collection of natural history specimens, particularly as the first person to take a giraffe back to France, will be dramatised through some striking displays, including one of the world's largest taxidermied giraffes.

The exhibition foregrounds Le Vaillant’s multi-dimensional legacy as explorer, naturalist and social critic.  Other very rare and valuable works by Le Vaillant will be displayed including a major selection of watercolours held by the South African Parliament, original bird illustrations for Oiseaux d'Afrique and elephant folio versions of his bird books illustrated by Barraband from the Brenthurst Library.

The exhibition will also highlight the role of Le Vaillant and other early travellers as anthropological observers who were often champions of human rights and critics of colonial brutality. This exhibition helps demonstrate that this French traveller influenced how Europe viewed the new colony in southern Africa, and also how the Cape influenced French thinking. 

This exhibition is part of the French Season in South Africa 2012, an initiative that aims to strengthen relations between France and South Africa, and to create an environment in which each nation supports the other from a cultural, commercial and social perspective. It does this by creating an awareness of French culture in South Africa through a planned series of events and exhibitions.





Iziko Museums of South Africa (Iziko) operates 11 national museums, the Planetarium, the Social History Centre and 3 collection specific libraries in Cape Town.  The museums that make up Iziko have their own history and character, presenting extensive art, social and natural history collections which reflect our diverse African heritage.  Iziko is a public entity and non-profit organisation which brings together these museums under a single governance and leadership structure.  The organisation allows *free access to all individuals on commemorative days, as well as unlimited free access to individuals aged 18 and under (excluding the Castle of Good Hope and Planetarium).

blog comments powered by Disqus