portuguese overseas travels and european readers


For many reasons, the Portuguese press was slow in publicizing information about the Discoveries. Until the 1540s, only reports about Ethiopia were published, and those still focused on the medieval political dream of an alliance with Prester John and his mythical Christian kingdom in Africa.  In the 1550s, chronicles dealing with the Portuguese in Asia, such as those of João de Barros and Fernão Lopes de Castanheda, became available in printed form, paving the way for the publication of other overseas chronicles and related accounts during the latter half of the century. On the other hand, printers and intellectuals throughout Europe had been eager to publish and spread news of the Portuguese discoveries from the first, although it is true that many Europeans were more interested in reading about the “Turk” than in learning about the “Age of Exploration,” (some were even convinced that it was Columbus who arrived in Calicut, India in 1498). Still, the unfamiliar peoples, animals, plants, and landscapes of West Africa, Brazil, and Asia captured the attention of European readers, a sizeable audience able to purchase and read pamphlets and books in many languages. The travels of individual Europeans associated with the Portuguese enterprise, such as Alvise da Cadamosto, Hans Staden, and Jan Huygen van Linschoten, became immensely popular,  and soon Portuguese and Spanish accounts of foreign lands caught the eye of those involved in the organization and publication of collections of voyages in sixteenth-century Europe, from Fracanzio Montalboddo and Giovanni Battista Ramusio to Theodor de Bry and Samuel Purchas.

1.  Copia der newen Zeytung aus Presillq Landt, Nuremberg, 1514.

This, the first text printed in German about Portuguese voyages to Brazil and the Rio de la Plata region, is supposed to have been written by an anonymous author on the island of Madeira who provided commercial information to the Fugger trade house in Germany. It was published in three editions in 1514 in the German cities of Augsburg and Nuremberg and was used in the following year by the geographer Johannes Schöner to write an explanation for his globe,  Luculentissima quaedum terrae totius descriptio, where he indicated a passage to the East Indies in the south of Brazil. Published six years before Fernão Magalhães sailed from the Atlantic to the Pacific, the Copia der newen Zeytung was the only source to suggest the possibility of a passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific—that it would be easy to reach Malacca “by that way” and “in a short time.” MSL


2. Tupinamba prepare food in Hans Staden, Warachtige historie ende beschriuinge eens lants in America ghelegen, Antwerp, 1558.

Hans Staden was a German mercenary who managed to escape from the clutches of a so-called man-eating tribe in Brazil, the Tupinamba. His book was written and published in 1557 with the help of Johannes Dryander, a humanist and experienced scholar, and succeeded because it fed the public's curiosity concerning everything to do with the New World. The book is divided into two parts. The first is a report on Staden’s experiences and adventures; the second a careful description of the customs and traditions of the Tupinamba. This detailed and precise description of a previously unknown, strange, and dangerous people explains the book’s continued popularity throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Even today it can be read as an important ethnographic source.  Unlike many early book illustrations that often bore no relationship to the text, these were based on the author’s first-hand descriptions. Each new edition of the book added more illustrations, as in this one by the celebrated publishing house of Theodor de Bry in Frankfurt. MSL


3.  Sea monster in Pedro Magalhães de Gândavo, Historia da Província de Santa Cruz a que vulgarmente chamamos Brasil, Lisbon, 1576.

Pedro Magalhães Gândavo, born in the northern Portuguese city of Braga to a family of Flemish descent, wrote the first book printed in the Portuguese language about Brazil, História da Província de Santa Cruz. Gândavo was a well-known humanist and lived in Brazil for several years, attracted by the potential of the New World. His work is a eulogy of the fruitfulness and the beauties of the Brazilian landscape and should be read, according to some historians, as an invitation to emigrate from Portugal to Brazil. This history, written in 1573, along with his Tratado da Terra do Brasil (written in 1570, but unpublished for more than two centuries) are the first Portuguese texts on Brazil. Pero Magalhães Gândavo is rightly called the first historian of the “Holy Land of Santa Cruz.” MSL
Here the text relates how Baltasar Ferreira killed this marine monster off the coast of São Vicente (present-day Santos in the state of São Paulo) in 1564. The Indians of the area called it a water devil or hipupiára. Perhaps it was a walrus or sea-elephant.


4.  Relaçam verdadeira dos trabalhos que ho gouernador dom Fernando de Souto e certos fidalgos portugueses passarom no descobrimento da prouincia da Frolida, Évora, 1557.

The author of the Relaçam verdadeira has never been precisely identified. He was one of the Portuguese fidalgos (young men of good family) from Elvas who joined the Spanish expedition that crossed the southern territories of North America from Florida to the mouth of the Mississippi between 1539 and 1543. The leader of the expedition, Hernando de Soto, was a seasoned conquistador who had participated in the conquest of Peru and returned to Spain with unimaginable wealth. He was not so fortunate in his new venture; he died en route before the three hundred survivors of his initial force of seven hundred reached the Mississippi. Several accounts of the expedition were written, among them the anonymous “true relation” shown here. The author must have been one of the three surviving Portuguese who returned to Europe–Fernão Pegado, António Martins Segurado, or Estevão Pegado. The work describes in detail the wanderings of the expedition, including important ethnographic information about the Native Americans they encountered. The author also documents the devastating consequences of de Soto’s entrada for Indian demography and American ecology. This anonymous account was translated into English in London in 1609. RML


5.  Carrying a Kongo king in Duarte Lopes, De beschryinghe vant groot ende vermaert coninckrijck van Congo, Amsterdam, 1596.

Duarte Lopes was a Portuguese New-Christian merchant sent by the Catholic king of the Kongo, Dom Álvaro I, as his ambassador to the Pope in about 1578. After a long and tumultuous journey that took him a decade, Lopes arrived in Rome and had a fruitless audience with Pope Sixtus V. In Rome, he also met the Italian humanist Filippo Pigafetta, to whom he narrated in detail the history of the kingdom of the Kongo and the Portuguese presence there. Based on that meeting, Pigafetta wrote an illustrated book in Italian entitled Relatione del reame di Congo, first published in Rome in 1591. In the years to come, Pigafetta’s Relatione became a European best-seller, with countless translations and editions, many of them including additional engravings. JF


6.  Lodovico de Varthema, Die ritterliche vnnd lobwirdige Reyss, des gestrengen vnd vber all ander weit erfarne Ritter, vnnd Landtfahrer, Herrn Ludovico Vartomans von Bolonia, sagend von den Landen Egypto, Syria, von beiden Arabia, Persia, India, vnd Ethiopia, Frankfurt-au-Main, 1548.

A native of Bologna, Italy, Ludovico de Varthema left Venice in 1500 and, disguised as a Muslim merchant, traveled extensively in the eastern Mediterranean, the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf, and South India. Varthema then entered the service of the Portuguese, and was named Knight of the Order of Christ by Viceroy Dom Francisco de Almeida. The Bolognese traveler-adventurer returned to Europe via the Cape Route and Lisbon and, once back in Italy decided to put down on paper his experiences in Asia, although his claim to direct knowledge of regions east of Cape Comorin are doubtful. The Itinerario was written in 1509 and published in Rome the following year. Varthema’s work was well known by sixteenth-century Portuguese and became a very popular book throughout Europe, as successive translations in Latin, Spanish, Flemish, English, French, and German attest. This edition, printed in Frankfurt-au-Main in 1548, was the seventh German edition to be published since 1515. JF

7.  Francisco Alvares, Historia de las cosas de Etiópia, Antwerp, 1557.  


8. Francisco Álvares, Historiale description de l’Ethiopie, Antwerp, 1558.

The first Portuguese edition of Francisco Álvares’ Verdadeira informação das terras do Preste Joam came out in Lisbon in 1540, and soon became a European best-seller, with many translations and reprints. Álvares, who was born in Coimbra around 1470, was the chaplain of the first Portuguese embassy to Ethiopia led by Duarte Galvão. After a hazardous voyage, he remained in East Africa for six years, collecting materials that he would later use to produce a well-documented description of the Portuguese embassy and of the legendary, but quite bleak, land of the Christia monarch, Prester John. By coincidence, Álvares returned to Portugal in 1527 in the company of António Galvão, son of the recently deceased ambassador. In 1531 he journeyed to Rome to present an account of his expedition and its results to the Pope, and apparently died there around 1540. His manuscript circulated widely, but the first Lisbon edition seems to have been only an abridged version of the original. The erudite scholar Giovanni Battista Ramusio included an Italian translation of Álvares’ treatise in the first edition of the first volume of his Navigationi et Viaggi, published in Venice in 1550. This was the main source for many other editions of Álvares’ travel account, printed throughout Europe, in Spanish, French, Italian, and German. RML

9.  António Galvão, Tratado que compôs o nobre & notauel capitão Antonio Galuão, ... de todos os descobrimentos antigos & modernos, que são feitos ate a era de mil & quinhentos & cincoenta, Lisbon, 1563.  

10.  António Galvão, The discoueries of the world from their first originall vnto the yeere of our Lord 1555, London, 1601.

António Galvão was the son of the celebrated Portuguese diplomat and chronicler Duarte Galvão. He was born ca. 1502-1503 and traveled twice to India in the royal service during the 1520s.  In 1532 Galvão sailed once again to India, and from there traveled to the Moluccas in Eastern Indonesia where he held the post of captain of the Portuguese fortress of Ternate between 1536 and 1539.  He returned to Portugal around 1540, and despite his outstanding career in the Estado da Índia, lived the next seventeen years as a destitute fidalgo in the Royal Hospital in Lisbon. On his death in 1557, Galvão left two manuscript treatises, one of which, the Tratado dos Descobrimentos, was first printed in Lisbon in 1563 by his friend, Francisco de Sousa Tavares. This work, based on a vast array of available manuscript and printed sources, presented for the first time a synthesis of Portuguese and Spanish accounts of discovery and exploration to the year 1550.  Richard Hakluyt published Galvão’s work in English as The discoveries of the world in London in 1601. RML

11.  Fernão Mendes Pinto, Peregrinaçam de Fernam Mendez Pinto. Em que da conta de muytas e muyto estranhas cousas que vio & ouuio no reyno da China..., Lisbon, 1614.  

12.  Fernão Mendes Pinto, The voyages and adventures, of Fernand Mendez Pinto, a Portugal: during his travels for the space of one and twenty years in the kingdoms of Ethiopia and China, London, 1653.

Perhaps the most famous of all Portuguese travelers, Fernão Mendes Pinto was born in Montemor-o-Velho, around 1509.  He sailed to India in 1537, in search of wealth and fame, as did many of his contemporaries. After a brief period in the service of the Estado da Índia, he traveled throughout maritime Asia for two decades, assuming different roles such as merchant, spy, mercenary, and ambassador. Jesuit documents place him around the South China Sea in the 1540s and 1550s, busy in commercial enterprises that more often than not turned into piratical expeditions. According to his own testimony, Mendes Pinto was among the first Portuguese to visit Japan in 1542 or 1543. Here he crossed paths with Father Francis Xavier, whom he met on the Japanese island of Kyushu in 1551. Four years later, while on his way to Japan again, he sent a letter from Macau, the first Portuguese "mail" to be sent from this soon-to-be-famous port. In 1558 Mendes Pinto returned to Portugal, where he became known as an expert in Oriental matters.  It was  rumored that he was writing a book of memoirs recounting his adventurous travels across Asia, but the Peregrinaçam was published in Lisbon only in 1614, many years after its author’s death in 1583. The book became an immediate bestseller, not only because it was presented as a first-hand account, but also because of Mendes Pinto’s incredible adventures and exotic scenarios. His account (or selected portions of it) was repeatedly translated and published throughout Europe in Spanish, English, French, Dutch, and German. The accuracy of the Peregrinaçam has long been debated, mainly because Mendes Pinto seems to have blended his own experiences with that of many of his contemporaries. RML

13.  Fracanzio Montalboddo, Paesi nuovamente retrovati & Nouo Mo[n]do da Alberico Vesputio Florentino intitulato, Vicentia, 1507.  


14.  Map of Africa in Fracanzio Montalboddo, Itinerarium Portugallensium..., Milan, 1508.

Fracanzio (the Latinized form of Francesco or Francescantonio) was born in the mid-fifteenth century in Montalboddo, now Ostra, in central Italy. He taught grammar, rhetoric, and geometry in Vicenza, and also in Padova, where he died around 1510. He was famous in European literary circles for the organization and publication of the collection of travel accounts known as Paesi nuovamente retrovati, which was published in Vicenza in 1507. For the first time in Europe, reports of Portuguese and Spanish voyages of discovery and exploration appeared in print, lifting the veil on Iberian overseas activities. Among other texts, Montalboddo included accounts of the explorations of Gaspar Corte Real in the northwestern Atlantic, of the 1498 Vasco da Gama expedition to India, of the voyage of Pedro Álvares Cabral to Brazil and India (1500), and of the Amerigo Vespucci letters on the New World, his Mundus Novus. Montalboddo’s work was repeatedly reissued in Italian, Latin, German, and French. Particularly significant was the Milan edition of 1508, translated into Latin by Arcangelo Madrignano, who stressed in his title the role of the Portuguese in the uncovering of the New Worlds. RML


15.  Giovanni Battista Ramusio, Delle Navigationi et Viaggi, volume I, Venice, 1550.

The Venetian civil servant Giovanni Battista Ramusio (1485-1557) began collecting travel reports in the early decades of the sixteenth century, using a vast network of informers and agents particularly active in Iberian overseas circles. In 1550 he published in Venice the first volume of the Navigationi et viaggi, a large collection of travel reports that became immediately renowned throughout Europe. In addition to the standard accounts, Ramusio’s collection included many previously unknown reports of geographical exploration in Africa, Asia, and the Americas, translated from Portuguese and Spanish sources. In the following years, the first volume was repeatedly reissued; the publication of two other volumes in 1556 and 1559, made the Navigationi the largest and most comprehensive European collection of travel literature in print. RML


16. Goa in Jan Huygen van Linschoten, Itinerario, voyage ofte schipvaert, van Ian Huygen van Linschoten naer Oost ofte Portugaels Indien, Amsterdam, 1596.

The Dutch traveler Jan Huygen van Linschoten (1562-1611) lived in Goa on the west coast of India between 1583 and 1588, where he acted as secretary to the Portuguese archbishop Dom Vicente da Fonseca. After he returned to the Low Countries, in 1592 he collaborated with the Dutch scholar, Berent ten Broecke (also known as Bernardus Paludanus), to write a series of accounts of the Indies using his vast first-hand experience as well as a number of Iberian maps, books, and manuscripts he had collected during his travels. All of Linschoten’s works circulated widely and were repeatedly reissued and translated in Europe, but the most famous is the celebrated Itinerario, first published in 1596. It describes all of maritime Asia from Mozambique to Japan and is illustrated by three maps and thirty-six colored engravings made from original drawings by Linschoten. The one shown here, depicting the rua direita of Goa, is one of the most interesting and well-known engravings of the series. RML


17.  Theodor de Bry, Grands voyages, Part III. German, Frankfurt,  1593.

A Tupinamba settlement in Brazil according to the account of Hans Staden.

18.  “Chorographia nobilis & opulentae Peruanae Provinciae atque Brasilae.”  In:  Theodor de Bry, Grands voyages, Part III. Latin, Frankfurt, 1605.  
  the Exhibition was in the reading room from april to october 2008