In 1577, at the age of 63, Adriaen Coenensz from Scheveningen, a Dutch fishing port, started his Vis booc. Over a period of three years he collected all kind of information about the sea, the coasts, and coastal waters, fishing grounds and marine animals: 410 pages written by an expert. Throughout his life he had earned his living from the sea, as fisherman, as wreck master of the county of Holland, and from 1574 as official fish auctioneer at Scheveningen.
Coenensz made nearly every page into a miniature work of art by framing his texts and illustrations by borders, edges and cartouches painted in water colour. He must have realised the special value of his book, as appears from the minutes of the court sessions in Leiden from 1583. They contain a note indicating that Coenensz asked permission for his book and his collection of dried fish ‘to be shown on the coming free annual fair and the festival of the relief of the city [3 October], receiving from every person five cents and from those wanting to see the book twenty-five’. So looking at his book was five times as much as marvelling at his dried fish. Coenensz certainly cashed in on his knowledge. On the reverse of folium 11 he even promoted it:
'Whoever reads or studies it
May spread the word to Another
that he may see and hear'.
One of the marvels of the sea that the inhabitants of Leiden could admire in the book was ‘The true Portrait and size of this whale that has been captured on the ij of July AD m.d.lxxvij’, painted in water colour over two pages. Coenensz had drawn this whale after an engraving that had appeared in the same year (1577). Drawing and caption record an event that would also be considered newsworthy in our own time: a whale cast ashore. The whale depicted here landed in shallow waters, the Scheldt near Doel above Antwerp, and attracted a lot of attention. A few years later Coenensz made a second book, based on this manuscript, the whale manuscript, which is now in Antwerp; a third, also with drawings of whales, is part of a collection in Cologne.
'Vis booc'. Adriaen Coenensz. S.l., 1577-1580. Paper, 410 leaves, 317 x 215 mm. With watercolour drawings made by himself. - Provenance: Jacob Visser collection, 1809. - 78 E 54, fol. 53v-54r