Rare masterpiece returns to France

  • Posted: May 28, 2013

‘The King’s Map’ is set to return and rest at its home, Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. This rare masterpiece is a unique map of South Africa produced 222 years ago. Nearly 3 x 2m in size – painted on brushed cotton for King Louis XVI of France – the map, a record of biodiversity and animal distribution in southern Africa,has 66 illustrations of animals, birds, and plants.  It illustrates the route travelled by French traveller, free thinker and social critic of the time - during the birth of democracy, François Le Vaillant.

The map was the centre-piece of the exhibition entitled The King’s Map François Le Vaillant in southern Africa 1781-1784, which concluded its first ever public exhibition on Sunday, 26 May 2013. Assistant Director of the Department of Maps at Bibliothèque Nationale, Fancois Nawrocki, as well as a team of Iziko conservators, started the process of de-installing this precious gem on Monday 27 May, in preparation for its return to Paris. The map, originally stored in a naval archive, had been moved from one archive to another to escape destruction during World Wars I and II in France.

Curator, Prof Ian Glenn, described his pleasure at discovering the map in the archives of the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, which lead to a long process to exhibit the map at the Iziko South African Museum.  “We are grateful to the French Cultural Services in South Africa and the Bibliothèque Nationale to let the map return to the land that inspired its creation,” he concluded.

Recognised as the first significant modern ornithologist, Le Vaillant spent the years 1781 to 1784 in southern Africa. He created a window on southern Africa through his writings, watercolours and maps that vividly depict both nature and human interaction at that time. The exhibition foregrounded Le Vaillant’s multi-dimensional legacy as explorer, naturalist and social critic. Other very rare and valuable works by Le Vaillant were also 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.

See more images HERE




Iziko Museums of South Africa (Iziko) operates 11 national museums, the Planetarium, the Social History Centre and three 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 that reflect our diverse African heritage.  Iziko is a public entity and non-profit organisation that brings together these museums under a single governance and leadership structure.  The organisation allows *free access to all individuals on commemorative days, (*excluding the Castle of Good Hope and Planetarium).



  • Human Rights Day: 21 March
  • Freedom Day: 27 April
  • International Museum Day: 18 May
  • Africa Day: 25 May
  • Youth Day: 16 June
  • National Women’s Day: 9 August
  • Heritage Week: 21-27 September
  • National Aids Awareness Day: 1 December
  • Emancipation Day: 1 December
  • Day of Reconciliation: 16 December
  • Castle of Good Hope and Planetarium, free only on International Museum Day and Heritage Day 


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