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Geographies of Knowledge: European cultural networks and Portuguese intellectuals

Lisbon, capital of both the Portuguese kingdom and empire, had nurtured links with prominent European centers of trade, culture, and politics since the Middle Ages. Connections with Italian cities like Florence (home of the affluent Marchionni and Sernigi merchants), and Genoa were particularly strong. In Northern Europe, relevant ties were woven with Augsburg and Nuremberg in Germany and Bruges, and Antwerp in Flanders, areas shaped by the activities of “dynasties” of prominent and educated businessmen like the Welser and the Fugger. Antwerp was the center of these interactions in the early sixteenth century and the Portuguese crown soon established a feitoria (trading post) in the city.

Prince Pedro (1392-1449), the brother of Henry the Navigator (1394-1460), was one of the first Portuguese to navigate these cultural networks in the age of exploration. Pedro traveled extensively in Europe from 1425 to 1428 and, on his way back to Lisbon, managed to bring from Venice a manuscript book by Marco Polo. But it was in the sixteenth century, partly due to the dynamic cultural policy of King João III (r. 1521-1557), that the number of Portuguese traveling and studying in Europe grew dramatically. “Geographies of Knowledge” intends to underscore the impact on European thought of a group of Portuguese intellectuals and their work in a variety of fields, from history and botany to mathematics and nautical science.




First Cartographic Focus on New England and New France 

19. Astronomical tables in Abraham ben Samuel Zacuto, Almanach perpetuum, Venice, 1502.

Zacuto’s Almanach perpetuum enjoys a special place in the history of the development of Portuguese maritime techniques as it seems to have been the source of important parameters and numerical tables necessary for the astronomical navigation practiced by Portuguese sailors. Its author, Abraham Zacuto (1452-1515), was one of the leading Jewish intellectuals in Spain who, after the expulsion of 1492, went to Portugal and afterwards to North Africa. The first edition of the Almanach perpetuum was published in Leiria (Portugal), in 1496, thus being the first scientific treatise printed in Portugal. The Venice edition of 1502 is an improved edition, with annotations and corrections by Alfonso de Córdoba, a physician in the service of Cardinal Borgia in Rome. HL


20. Armillary sphere in Francisco Faleiro, Tratado del esphera y del arte del marear, Seville, 1535.

The Portuguese pilot Francisco Faleiro, who for many years served the Spanish crown, wrote one of the earliest books on the arte de marear (“the art of seamanship”). This type of book contained the essential knowledge needed for oceanic sailing–a brief theoretical description of the basic concepts of cosmography and astronomy, usually along the lines of Sacrobosco’s Treatise on the Sphere, followed by a description of the procedures, techniques, and instruments used at sea. Faleiro’s book was especially noteworthy for its clarity and for the fact that it introduced novel techniques and instruments. Sixteenth and early seventeenth century Iberian authors published their influential texts on the art of seamanship closely following the structure proposed by Faleiro in this work. HL


21.  Pedro Nunes, Tratado da spheracom a theorica do sol & da lua..., Lisbon, 1537.

The first book published by the Portuguese mathematician Pedro Nunes (1502-1578). It contains Portuguese translations of some of the most important texts used in introductory courses on cosmography: Sacrobosco’s Treatise on the Sphere, the first book of Ptolemy’s Geography, and the first chapters of Peuerbach’s Theorica novae planetarum. But what truly makes it an exceptional work is that in addition to these translations it contains two remarkable texts composed by Nunes: the "Treatise on certain doubts of navigation" and the "Treatise in defense of the maritime chart." These two texts introduce new concepts (such as the notion of “rhumb line”), and propose a systematic and rigorous approach to nautical problems that heralds the birth of mathematical navigation. HL


22.  Diogo de Sá, De Navigatione libri tres, Paris, 1549.

Diogo de Sá’s De navigatione is an attack on Pedro Nunes’ works and ideas on navigation. Sá combined a strong scholarly background with extensive practical experience at sea, something that Nunes lacked. Based on this combination of skills he mounted a violent critique, not only of Nunes’ mathematical ideas, but against mathematics in general. The book is written as a dialogue between a philosopher and a mathematician in which the first repeatedly exposes the limitations and superficiality of the mathematics of the second. De navigatione is an interesting testimony to the reaction against the mathematical study of nature, but it does not seem to have caused much impact.  Nunes never replied to the attacks and the arguments of Diogo de Sá were soon forgotten. HL


23.  Navigation calculations in Luís Serrão Pimentel, Arte pratica de navegar e regimento de pilotos, Lisbon, 1681

Luís Serrão Pimentel (1613-1679) is one of the key figures of seventeenth-century science in Portugal. He succeeded António de Mariz Carneiro as cosmógrafo-mor (chief-cosmographer) of the kingdom in 1641, the same function exerted by the celebrated Pedro Nunes between 1529 and 1578. The cosmógrafo-mor was responsible for examining and certifying all those seeking to prepare maritime charts and nautical tools. Serrão Pimentel was also appointed chief engineer of Portugal and taught mathematics, navigation, and military fortification in the aula da matemática founded in Lisbon, 1647. Besides the  Arte pratica de navegar, he authored many other books, such as Methodo lusitanico de desenhar as fortificaçoens das praças (Lisbon, 1680). His son Manuel Pimentel (1650-1719) was to follow in his footsteps as cosmógrafo-mor and author of works on the art of seamanship, such as the  Arte de navegar (Lisbon, 1699). JF


24.  Gómez de Santisteban, Livro do infante D. Pedro de Portugal, o qual andou as sete partidas do mundo, Lisbon, 1644.

This short but influential book by the otherwise unknown Spanish writer Gómez de Santisteban displays a strange mixture of fact, myth, and pure fantasy. As prince and later as Regent of Portugal (1439-1446), Dom Pedro orchestrated the earliest phases of Portuguese maritime expansion. In addition, he gained fame for his extensive travels across Europe, where he received a hero’s welcome from England to Hungary.   Dom Pedro established diplomatic contacts with the great centers of international commerce, obtaining information on international trade, communication, and naval construction in such cities as London, Bruges, Florence, Rome, and especially Venice.  The literary genius of Gómez de Santisteban was to combine Dom Pedro’s already celebrated travels (as well as a rumored trip to the Holy Land) with the fervent desire of Europeans at the beginning of the sixteenth century to connect with the legendary Christian communities of Prester John in Ethiopia and the followers of St. Thomas the Apostle near his tomb in Meliapor, India.  Only one copy of the first Spanish edition of 1515 and the first Portuguese translation of 1602 are known. This second Portuguese edition is likewise rare. MP


25.  António Pereira, [North and South América, ca. 1545], manuscript.

This map is one of the earliest to show the results of Spanish exploration of North and South America. Francisco de Orellana's expedition of 1539 to 1542 is shown in South America. Orellana began his voyage at Quito, traveled across the Andes to the headwaters of the Amazon, and was the first European to make the descent of the Amazon River. He named the river after the Amazons of Greek myth after he and his men encountered a tribe of women warriors.
This map has been attributed to António Pereira, a Portuguese seaman, and was originally in three parts (the other two parts have not been found).


26.  Gaspar Barreiros, Chorographia de alguns lugares que stam em hum caminho, Coimbra, 1561.

In 1546 the Cardinal Infante Dom Henrique sent Gaspar Barreiros, a cleric and humanist, on an embassy to Rome to give thanks to the Pope for Dom Henrique’s recent elevation to cardinal. At the request of his uncle, the historian João de Barros, Barreiros recorded his travels from Spain to Italy. The resulting Chorographia is rich in personal experience and acute observation of the places, buildings, and peoples he encountered. Writing as a learned geographer and antiquary, Barreiros also included a healthy dose of erudition and criticism–he distrusted books, valuing knowledge gained from direct observation and experience instead. Although admitting that numerous Greek and Roman authors had written about the same places he had, Barreiros asserted that a new description was necessary because things continually change. MP


27.  Gaspar Barreiros, Casparis Varrerii Lusitani commentarius de Ophyra regione..., Rotterdam, 1616.

Gaspar Barreiros’s suspicion of texts and his challenges to traditional scholarship earned him an international reputation as a detector of misconceptions and forgeries. In his Latin text, De Ophyra regione, Barreiros demolished the prevailing idea that the Biblical region of Ophir, from which Solomon had obtained great quantities of gold, was actually located in Peru. Originally published as part of the Chorographia, this essay was subsequently printed separately, as in the edition shown here from Rotterdam. It was also included as part of numerous books on New World subjects. MP


28.  Damião de Góis, Hispania, Louvain, 1542.

Góis quickly penned this short polemical treatise in Latin in response to the offensive remarks the German humanist Sebastian Münster made about Iberia in his 1540 edition of Ptolemy’s Geographia Universalis. Góis tried to prove the power, greatness, and glory of Iberia by compiling lengthy lists of facts and figures. His triumphant section on military heroes includes Dom Francisco de Almeida and Dom Afonso de Albuquerque, the first two governors of the Portuguese Estado da Índia, while the conquistadors Fernando Cortes and Francisco Pizarro represent the conquests made in the New World for Castile. The second half of this patriotic defense directly confronts Münster’s accusations with varying degrees of precision and success. Góis proudly defends the economic and agricultural vitality of Iberia, as evidenced by the variety of exotic goods from Asia, Africa, and the Americas that arrived daily at the ports of Lisbon and Seville. But for Góis, the ultimate proof of the prosperity and magnificence of Iberia was the presence of several elephants and a rhinoceros at the Portuguese royal court. MP


29.  Johannes Boemus, Mores, leges, et ritus omnium gentium, Louvain, 1561.

The present edition of Joannes Boemus’s (c. 1485-1535) Omnium gentium mores leges et ritus ex multis clarissimis rerum scriptoribus (first published in Augsburg, 1520) is one of the many sixteenth-century printed books to include Fides, Religio Moresque AEthiopum. Originally published in Louvain in 1540, this Latin book reflects the meeting between its author, Damião de Góis, and Saga Za’ab («Zagazabo»), the Ethiopian ruler Lebna Dengel's ambassador to Portugal.  Góis echoes Saga Za’ab’s detailed statement about the nature and practice of the Christian religion in his country, which was viewed with growing suspicion in Lisbon, and in Rome. In the years of the Counter-Reformation, Fides, Religio Moresque AEthiopum was to face both censorship and public refutation, but it stands as one of the major writings of the Portuguese humanist Damião de Góis, as well as an important piece of the intellectual history of sixteenth-century Europe. JF


30.  André de Resende, Deliciae Lusitano-Hispanicae..., Cologne, 1613.

Using a wide range of sources such as ancient Roman inscriptions and medieval Arabic chronicles, and employing an innovative variety of historical methods, such as archaeology and etymology, the antiquary, humanist and neo-Latin poet André de Resende (1498-1573) set out to persuade his fellow countrymen and other Europeans of the falsehood of the idea that in Iberia “Hispani omnes sumus” (xxxxxx) and to prove wrongly, as it turned out, that ancient Roman Lusitania was identical with modern Portugal. Resende patriotically distorted his evidence to reveal the supposed Lusitanian origins of Portugal and the Portuguese people. He claimed the ancient figures of Viriato and Sertorius as national heroes and maintained that contemporary Portuguese had inherited the noble, valorous character and heroic traditions of the Lusitanians. He stressed their courage, their undying adherence to the cause of independence, and their resistance against the foreign Roman invader. Resende was determined to demonstrate that Portugal possessed a distinct identity as an independent nation of people distinguished by heroic valor. MP



31.  Jerónimo Osório, De Rebus Emmanuelis regis Lusitaniae..., Lisbon, 1571.

32.  Jerónimo Osório, Hieronymi Osorii Lusitani, Siluensis in Algarbiis episcopi; de rebus; Emmanuelis regis Lusitaniæ..., Cologne, 1574.

As a leading humanist and influential member of the ecclesiastical hierarchy, Osório was commissioned by the Cardinal Infante D. Henrique to compose in Latin a history of his father’s reign in order to make the astounding achievements of the Portuguese and the inestimable glory of King Manuel better known throughout the leading intellectual circles of Europe. The resulting publication was an enormous success. Several editions were issued in quick succession in Germany and the Latin text was swiftly translated into English and French. Montaigne vigorously endorsed Osório as “le meilleur historien de nos siècles.” MP



33. Cinnamon bark in Garcia de Orta, Aromatum, et simplicium aliquot medicamentorum apud Indos Nascentium Historia, Antwerp, 1567.

34.  Peppercorns in Garcia de Orta, Dell’ historia de i semplici aromati, el altre cose che vengono portate dall’ Indie Orientali pertinenti all’uso della medicina, Venice, 1589.

This is the first edition of the Latin translation of Portuguese physician Garcia da Orta’s masterwork, Colóquios dos simples e drogas he cousas medicinais da Índia (1563). Orta was professionally active in Portuguese Asia for over three decades (1534-1568). By interacting with Hindu and Muslim medical practitioners in India, Orta learned detailed information about indigenous healing practices and the application of local medicinal plants, which he codified and published in the Colóquios. The original text, printed at the Rachol Seminary in Goa, India, was the second European book published in Asia. As the first textbook on tropical medicine and Indian materia medica written by a European, this work would transform the Western understanding of and appreciation for Asian medicine. Publication of Garcia da Orta’s text excited great interest among Europe’s educated elite. The edition on display is an unauthorized (and incomplete) Latin translation by the prominent French botanist and physician Carolus Clusius (Charles Lécluse, 1526-1609). Clusius modified and augmented Orta’s text, adding substantial new material relating to plants of the Americas. Editions of Orta’s work soon appeared in English, French, and Italian, as well, pirated from Clusius’s abridged Latin text. The Venice, 1589, edition displayed here is a re-issue of an unauthorized translation, first published in Venice thirteen years earlier. TW


35. Pineapple in Cristóvão da Costa, Tractado delas drogas y medicinas de las Indias Orientales, Burgos, 1578.

This is the first edition of an influential, illustrated Spanish-language botanical text by the Portuguese physician Cristóvão da Costa (c. 1515-1594). Costa was a Jesuit missionary, a naturalist, and a physician who had first traveled to the Estado da Índia as a soldier. He returned to Europe for medical training, but again served in India from 1568 to 1572, first in Goa as physician to the Portuguese viceroy and then in the royal hospital of Cochin. Cristovão da Costa followed Garcia da Orta’s model, simply adapting much of the original text of the Colóquios. Costa’s systematic plant descriptions, however, improved the detail and accuracy of the earlier text. Further, where Orta’s original text was un-illustrated, Costa’s work is notable for its forty-seven (mostly) full-page plates, created as woodcuts based on the author’s own highly accurate drawings of Asian plants. Costa also included important new information about plants from the West Indies. TW


36. Banana palm in Cristóvão da Costa, Traicté de Christophe de la Coste..., Lyon, 1602.

Though it bears Cristovão da Costa’s name, this is actually a French translation of Carolus Clusius’ Aromatum (Antwerp, 1567), itself a translation of Portuguese physician Garcia da Orta’s Colóquios.  This translation was completed by Antoine Colin, “Master Apothecary of the City of Lyon,” who in the early seventeenth century translated and published several seminal materia medica treatises from the newly explored regions outside Europe. The publisher, Jean Pillehotte, was the designated printer for the Society of Jesus for the city of Lyons and its environs. His print shop published an abundance of influential scientific and ecclesiastical texts in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.  Jesuit interest in medical texts derived from the healing institutions they operated in connection with their missionary activities in India, China, and the Americas. TW

John Carter Brown Library


Exhibition prepared by Henrique Leitão [HL], Kenneth David Jackson [KDJ], Marília dos Santos Lopes [MSL], Mario Pereira [MP], Rui Manuel Loureiro [RML], Timothy Walker [TW], and Zoltán Biedermann [ZB], under the direction of Jorge Flores, Department of Portuguese and Brazilian Studies, Brown University.

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