What just happened?

To celebrate Vikings Live, we have replaced our Roman alphabet with the runic alphabet used by the Vikings, the Scandinavian ‘Younger Futhark’. The ‘Younger Futhark’ has only 16 letters, so we have used some of the runic letters more than once or combined two runes for one Roman letter.

For an excellent introduction to runes, we recommend Martin Findell’s book published by British Museum Press.

More information about how we have ‘runified’ this site


Collection online

Additional options
Production date to

Or search by



  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Description

    Tiger swallowtail butterfly Watercolour over graphite, with bodycolour and touched with white

  • Producer name

  • School/style

  • Date

    • 1585-1593
  • Materials

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Height: 139 millimetres
    • Width: 198 millimetres
  • Inscriptions

      • Inscription Content

        Inscribed in graphite: "66"
  • Curator's comments

    For an introduction to this group of drawings by John White and a list of abbreviations used in the Literature at the end, see curatorial comment for 1906,0509.1.1, the title page inscription to the album.

    The following text is taken from K. Sloan, 'A New World: England's First View of America' (London, BM Publications, 2006), no.63, pp.206-7:
    [NB. If you use any of the text or information below, please acknowledge the source]

    'Papilio glaucus' Linn.
    This watercolour has become renowned as the first picture of an American butterfly. It reappeared in the Sloane album, on the same page as the puffer fish (P&D SL,5270.21r), and another version was found in the Reverend Thomas Penny’s manuscript edited by Thomas Mouffet, ‘Insectorum . . . theatrum’ where it was labelled in Latin ‘The painter White brought this back to me from the American Virginia. 1587’ (see no. 67). Sloane also later owned the Penny/Mouffet manuscript (now in British Library, SL MS 4014,95v) and inscribed the drawing with the Indian name he knew from the version in his White album, ‘Mamankanois’. It was reproduced in a woodcut in the 1658 published version of Mouffet’s 'Theatre of Insects' (p. 967) and described as ‘The first Day-Butterfly being the greatest of all, for the most part all yellowish, those places and parts excepted which are here blacked with ink. Moreover, the roundles of the inner wings are sky-colour, insomuch that you would think they were set with Saphire stones; the eyes are like the Chrysolite: the bigness and form is so exactly set forth in the figure, that there need no more to be said of it.’ Some of the ‘Saphire’ blue roundels are visible in the original drawing but the Sloane volume version shows them much more clearly. The stained version in the Penny/Mouffet manuscript may be the only ‘field’ drawing by White to survive, but it is also possible that it is just another version he made on his return.

    Mark Catesby included two drawings of the Tiger swallowtail (Nat. Hist., II, pl. 83, 97). One shows it with its ‘tail’, and without the blue roundels, and is based on a specimen he found himself. He made another copy of it with a part of a sassafras to give to Sloane for his collection (British Library, Sloane MS 5289,167). His other illustration, shown without its tail, is based on the version in Sloane’s album. Because of the differences, Catesby believed that they were two separate species and, uniquely in all the drawings he had copied from Sloane, he acknowledged Sloane’s ‘manuscript of Sir Walter Ralegh’ as his source.

    White may have brought back at least one insect specimen: the Penny/Mouffet manuscript includes a rough drawing of a cicada of a species found in Virginia. When it was published in 1658, Mouffet (who edited Penny’s manuscript) recorded that Penny had received one specimen from Guinea and ‘also Mr. White a rare Painter, gave him another brought forth from Virginia’ (pp. 990–1, cited in PH&DBQ 109).

    Lit.: LB 1(68); Quinn, pp. 458–9; ECM 58; PH&DBQ 108(a); PH 58; Mouffet version BL Sloane MS 4014, fol. 96r; see H. McBurney, 'Mark Catesby's "Natural History of the Carolinas"' (1997) pp. 122–5

    Woodcut by an unknown artist, in Thomas Moffet's 'Insectorum...Theatrum'


  • Bibliography

    • Binyon 1(68) bibliographic details
    • Hulton+Quinn 108(a) bibliographic details
    • Croft-Murray 1960 58 bibliographic details
    • Sloan 2007 63 bibliographic details
  • Location

    British Roy PI

  • Exhibition history

    1952 Jul-Sep, BM, King's Lib, Raleigh/Hakluyt Quatercentenary, no.123
    1965 Jan 30-Feb 22, NGC, Washington, John White, no.84
    1965 26 Feb-14 Mar, NC Mus of Art, Raleigh, John White, no. 84
    1965 17 Mar-5 Apr, NY, Pierpont Morgan Libr, John White, no. 84
    1984 May 1-Dec 31, BL, Raleigh & Roanoke, no.91
    1985 Mar-Jun, Raleigh, NC Mus of History, Raleigh & Roanoke, no. 82
    1985 Jun-Aug, New York, Public Library, Raleigh & Roanoke, no. 82
    2007 Mar-Jun, BM, 'A New World:...', no.63
    2007/8 Oct-Jan, Raleigh, North Carolina Mus of History, 'A New World:...'
    2008 Mar-Jun, New Haven, Yale Center for British Art, 'A New World:...'
    2008 Jul-Oct, Williamsburg, Jamestown Settlement, 'A New World:...'

  • Conservation

    See treatments 

  • Subjects

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date


  • Department

    Prints & Drawings

  • Registration number


Swallow-tail butterfly
Watercolour over graphite, with bodycolour and touched with white

Swallow-tail butterfly Watercolour over graphite, with bodycolour and touched with white

Image description



If you’ve noticed a mistake or have any further information about this object, please email: collectiondatabase@britishmuseum.org 

View open data for this object with SPARQL endpoint

Object reference number: PDB69

British Museum collection data is also available in the W3C open data standard, RDF, allowing it to join and relate to a growing body of linked data published by organisations around the world.

View this object

Support the Museum:
donate online

The Museum makes its collection database available to be used by scholars around the world. Donations will help support curatorial, documentation and digitisation projects.

About the database

The British Museum collection database is a work in progress. New records, updates and images are added every week.

More about the database 


Work on this database is supported by a range of sponsors, donors and volunteers.

More about supporters and how you
can help