Nova Reperta: Amerigo Vespucci discovering the Southern Cross with an astrolabe (astrolabium)

Plate 18. This plate illustrates the discovery of the southern cross by Amerigo Vespucci. He is represented on a starry night holding an astrolabe towards the sky at a point where a cross formed by four stars is located. Various objects are spread on the desk in front of him, including another astrolabe and a small devotional sculpture of the crucifxion. To the left there is a large cartouche with inscriptions in Latin and Italian alongside an effigy of Dante. To the right, two armed figures are crouching and shielding their eyes. The coast is indicated by a ship in the distance and a boat tied to shore in the foreground.

Inscriptions in Latin and Italian. In margin: '18. ASTROLABIUM.', 'Americus Vespuccius, cum quattuor', 'Stellis crucem silente nocte repperit.' Long inscription in Latin on cartouche referring to one of Dante's letters concerning four stars followed by an extract of the letter in Italian: 'Io mi volsi...mirar quelle'. Signed at bottom of Cartouche: 'Ioan.Stradanus invent.' and 'Ioan. Collaert sculp.'

As the title indicates, Nova Reperta catalogues inventions and discoveries in the 'modern' world (as opposed to the classical world of antiquity). The print series dates to the 1590s and probably emerged in two distinct phases. During the late 16th century scientists were starting to break free from the constraints that had hitherto been imposed by the unchallenged authority of the classical writers. It commemorates both Italian and Northern achievements, comprised of a title page and nineteen figurative representations. As a set, it dates between 1580 and 1605. It seems to have been started as a set focusing on America, but soon expanded and can now be grouped into four themes (according to Alice Bonner McGinty's scholarship):

1. Discovery of America – Vespucci, magnet, venereal infection, longitude, astrolabe
2. Conquest of matter and motion – gunpowder, iron clocks, distillation, stirrups, watermill, windmill, polishing armour
3. Rationalisation of agriculture – silk, olive oil, sugar refining
4. Mechanisation of words and image – printing books, oil paint, spectacles, copper engraving.

The Nova Reperta was designed by Johannes Stradanus. Born in Bruges in 1523, Stradanus was a versatile, 16th-century mannerist artist who worked across a range of mediums and spent most of his artistic career in Florence. The set is dedicated to Italian humanist Luigi Alamanni, who belonged to an old aristocratic Florentine family. He was not only the dedicatee of the set, but was clearly intellectually involved in their production and likely assumed the role of artistic mentor, commenting on details as drawings were sent between Antwerp and Florence. Evidence of Almanni's influence on the series can be seen in his annotations on the backs of some of Stradanus's drawings. Furthermore much of the icongraphy relates to Florentine subjects. Alamanni had drawings in his possession suggesting he may also have been financially involved. Much information in Nova Reperta was probably gleaned from texts in his library. 

We know the names of two of the engravers who worked on this project in the workshop of Philips Galle. His son Theodoor Galle signed the engraving Vespucci rediscovers America. Jan Collaert's name appears on three of the plates: 15,17,18 and four other plates have also been attributed to him: 1,2,12,16. 

Object Details

ID: PAF7100
Type: Print
Display location: Not on display
Creator: Galle, Phillips; Stradanus, Johannes Collaert, Ioan
Date made: circa 1580-1605
People: Vespucci, Amerigo
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
Measurements: Sheet: 216 x 299 mm; Mount: 406 mm x 557 mm

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