Page semi-protected

Amerigo Vespucci

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  (Redirected from Amerigo Vespucci (explorer))
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Amerigo Vespucci
Portrait of Amerigo Vespucci.jpg
Posthumous portrait in the Giovio Series at the Uffizi in Florence, attributed to Cristofano dell'Altissimo
BornMarch 9, 1454
Florence, Republic of Florence (Italy)
DiedFebruary 22, 1512 (aged 57)
Other namesAmérico Vespucio (Spanish)
Americus Vespucius (Latin)
Américo Vespúcio (Portuguese)
Alberigo Vespucci
OccupationMerchant, explorer, cartographer
Known forDemonstrating to Europeans that the New World was not Asia but a previously-unknown fourth continent[a]
AmerigoVespucci Signature.png

Amerigo Vespucci (/vɛˈspi/;[1] Italian: [ameˈriːɡo veˈsputtʃi]; March 9, 1454 – February 22, 1512) was an Italian explorer, financier, navigator, and cartographer from the Republic of Florence. Sailing for Portugal around 1501–1502, Vespucci demonstrated that Brazil and the West Indies were not Asia's eastern outskirts (as initially conjectured from Columbus' voyages) but a separate continent described as the "New World". In 1507, the new continent was named America after the Latin version of Vespucci's first name.[2][3] Vespucci then became a citizen of the Crown of Castile and died in Seville (1512).[4]


Drawing of an old stone building
Vespucci's birthplace

Vespucci was born on March 9, 1454 in Florence, a wealthy Italian city-state and a center of Renaissance art and learning. He was the third son of Nastagio Vespucci, a Florentine notary for the Money-Changers Guild, and Lisa di Giovanni Mini.[5] The family resided in the District of Santa Lucia d'Ognissanti along with other families of the Vespucci clan. Earlier generations of Vespucci had funded a family chapel in the Ognissanti church; and the nearby Hospital of San Giovanni di Dio was founded by Simone di Piero Vespucci in 1380. Amerigo's immediate family was not especially prosperous but they were politically well-connected. Amerigo's grandfather, also named Amerigo Vespucci, served a total of 36 years as the chancellor of the of the Florentine government, known as the Signoria; and Nastagio also served in the Signoria and in other guild offices.[5][6] More importantly, the Vespucci's had good relations with Lorenzo de' Medici, the powerful de-facto ruler of Florence.[7]

Amerigo's two older brothers, Antonio and Girolamo, were sent to the University of Pisa for their education; Antonio followed his father to became a notary, while Girolamo entered the Church and joined the Knights Templar in Rhodes.[6] Amerigo's career path seemed less certain; instead of following his brothers to the university, he remained in Florence and was tutored by his uncle, Giorgio Antonio Vespucci, a Dominican friar in the monastery of San Marco. Fortunately for Amerigo, his uncle was one of the most celebrated humanist scholars in Florence at the time and provided him with a broad education in literature, philosophy, rhetoric and Latin. He was also introduced to geography and astronomy, subjects that played an essential part in his career. Amerigo's later writings demonstrated a familiarity with the work of the classic Greek cosmographers, Ptolemy and Strabo, and the more recent work of Florentine astronomer Paolo dal Pozzo Toscanelli.[7]

In 1478 Guido Antonio Vespucci led a Florentine diplomatic mission to Paris and invited his younger cousin, Amerigo Vespucci, to join him. Amerigo's role is not clear but it was likely as an attache or private secretary. Along the way they had business in Bologna, Milan, and Lyon. Their objective in Paris was to obtain French support for Florence's war with Naples. Louis XI was noncommittal and the diplomatic mission returned to Florence in 1481 with little to show for their efforts.[7][8]

After his return from Paris, Amerigo worked for a time with his father and continued his studies in science.[6] In 1482, when his father died, Amerigo went to work for Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de' Medici, head of a junior branch of the Medici family. Although Amerigo was ten years older, they had been schoolmates under the tutelage of Giorgio Antonio Vespucci. Amerigo served first as a household manager and then gradually took on increasing responsibilities, handling various business dealings for the family both at home and abroad.[7] Meanwhile he continued to show an interest in geography, at one point buying an expensive map made by the master cartographer Gabriel de Vallseca.[6][8]

In 1488 Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco became dissatisfied with his Seville business agent, Tomasso Capponi. He dispatched Vespucci to investigate the situation and provide an assessment of a suggested replacement, Florentine merchant Gianotto Berardi. Vespucci's findings have been lost but Capponi returned to Florence around this time and Berardi took over the Medici business in Seville.[8] In addition to managing Medici's trade in Seville, Berardi had his own business in African slavery and ship chandlery.[7]

By 1492 Vespucci had settled permanently in Seville. His motivations for leaving Florence are unclear; he continued to transact some business on behalf of his Medici patrons but more and more he became involved with Berardi's other activities, most notably providing investment and support for Christopher Columbus and his voyages of discovery. Barardi invested half a million maravedis in Columbus' first voyage and he won a potentially lucrative contract to provision Columbus's large second fleet. However, profits proved to be elusive. In 1495 Berardi signed a contract with the crown to send 12 resupply ships to Hispaniola but then died unexpectedly in December without completing the terms of the contract.[9][10]

Vespucci was the executor of Berardi's will, collecting debts and paying outstanding obligations for the firm. Afterwards he was left owing 140,000 maravedies. He continued to provisions ships bound for the West Indies but his opportunities were diminishing; Columbus's expeditions were not providing the hoped-for profits and his patron, Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco Medici, was using other Florentine agents for his business in Seville.[11][12]

Sometime after he settled in Seville, Vespucci married a Spanish woman, Maria Cerezo. Very little is known about her; Vespucci's will refers to her as the daughter of Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba. Historian Fernández-Armesto speculates that she may have been the illegitimate offspring of celebrated military leader, the "Grand Captain", a connection that would have been very useful to Vespucci. She was an active participant in his business and held power of attorney for Vespucci when he was away.[13]

Starting in the late 1490s Vespucci participated in two voyages to the New World that are well-documented in the historical record. Two others have been alleged but they are problematical. In 1499 Vespucci joined an expedition licensed by Spain and led by Alonso de Ojeda as fleet commander and Juan de la Cosa as chief navigator. Their intention was to explore the coast of a new landmass found by Columbus on his third voyage and in particular investigate a rich source of pearls that Columbus had reported. Vespucci and his backers financed two of the four ships in the small fleet.[14] His role on the voyage is not clear. Writing later about his experience, Vespucci gave the impression that he had a leadership role but that is unlikely because of his inexperience. Years later, Ojeda recalled that Vespucci was one of his pilots on the expedition and he may also have served as a commercial representative on behalf of the fleet's investors.[15]


Statue in a niche
Statue of Vespucci outside the Uffizi in Florence

Vespucci's expeditions became known in Europe after two accounts attributed to him were published between 1502 and 1503.[16] In 1507, Martin Waldseemüller produced a world map on which he named the new continent America after the feminine Latin version of Vespucci's first name.[16] In an accompanying book, Waldseemüller published one of the Vespucci accounts; this led to criticism that Vespucci was trying to usurp Christopher Columbus' glory. The 18th-century rediscovery of other letters by Vespucci has led to the view that the early published accounts (notably the Soderini Letter) could be fabrications, not by Vespucci but by others.[17]

Historical role

Two letters attributed to Vespucci were published during his lifetime. Mundus Novus (New World) was a Latin translation of a lost Italian letter sent from Lisbon to Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de' Medici describing a voyage to South America in 1501–1502. It was published in late 1502 or early 1503 and reprinted and distributed in a number of European countries.[5] Lettera di Amerigo Vespucci delle isole nuovamente trovate in quattro suoi viaggi (Letter of Amerigo Vespucci concerning the isles newly discovered on his four voyages), known as Lettera al Soderini or just Lettera, was a letter in Italian addressed to Piero Soderini, published in 1504 or 1505. It was a purported account of four voyages to the Americas made by Vespucci between 1497 and 1504. A Latin translation was published by Martin Waldseemüller in 1507 in Cosmographiae Introductio as Quattuor Americi Vespucij navigationes (Four Voyages of Amerigo Vespucci), a book on cosmography and geography.[5]

During the 18th century, three unpublished letters were rediscovered from Vespucci to Pierfrancesco de' Medici. One describes a voyage made in 1499–1500 which corresponds with the second of the four reported voyages. Another was written from Cape Verde in 1501 in the early part of the third voyages, before crossing the Atlantic. The third letter was sent from Lisbon after the completion of that voyage.[5]

Several scholars now believe that Vespucci did not write the two published letters in the form in which they circulated during his lifetime. They suggest that the two letters in circulation were fabrications, although based on genuine letters by Vespucci. The publication and widespread circulation of the letters may have led Waldseemüller to name the new continent America on his 1507 world map in Lorraine. Vespucci used a Latinized form of his name (Americus Vespucius) in his Latin writings, which Waldseemüller used as a base for the new name in its feminine form. According to the book accompanying the map, "I do not see what right any one would have to object to calling this part, after Americus who discovered it and who is a man of intelligence, Amerige, that is, the Land of Americus, or America: since both Europa and Asia got their names from women". Vespucci may not have been aware that Waldseemüller named the continent after him.[18]

Natives cutting up a person, with body parts hanging
First known depiction of cannibalism in the New World; engraving by Johann Froschauer for an edition of Vespucci's Mundus Novus, published in Augsburg in 1505

The two disputed letters say that Vespucci made four voyages to America; at most, two can be verified by other sources. It is disputed as to when Vespucci first visited the mainland; according to historians such as Germán Arciniegas[8] and Gabriel Camargo Pérez, his first voyage was made in June 1497 with Spanish pilot Juan de la Cosa.

On March 22, 1508, King Ferdinand made Vespucci chief navigator of Spain at a large salary[19] and commissioned him to found a school of navigation to standardize and modernize navigation techniques used by Iberian sea captains exploring the world. Vespucci developed a rudimentary but fairly accurate method of determining longitude, which was improved by more accurate chronometers.[20]

Vespucci's historical importance may rest more in his letters (whether or not he wrote them all) than in his discoveries. From these letters, the European public first learned about the newly discovered continents of the Americas; their existence became generally known throughout Europe within a few years of the letters' publication. According to Vespucci:

Concerning my return from those new regions which we found and explored… we may rightly call a new world. Because our ancestors had no knowledge of them, and it will be a matter wholly new to all those who hear about them, for this transcends the view held by our ancients, inasmuch as most of them hold that there is no continent to the south beyond the equator, but only the sea which they named the Atlantic and if some of them did aver that a continent there was, they denied with abundant argument that it was a habitable land. But that this their opinion is false and utterly opposed to the truth… my last voyage has made manifest; for in those southern parts I have found a continent more densely peopled and abounding in animals than our Europe Asia or Africa, and, in addition, a climate milder and more delightful than in any other region known to us, as you shall learn in the following account.[21]

Vespucci meets nude Native Americans
Vespucci's first encounter with Native Americans in 1497 (De Bry engraving, c. 1592)


Painting of a serious-looking young man
Portrait of a young member of the Vespucci family, identified by Giorgio Vasari as Amerigo

Although Vespucci's first and fourth voyages may have been fabricated, his second and third voyages are certain[according to whom?].[b]

First voyage

A letter, written to Piero Soderini and published in 1504, purports to be an account by Vespucci of a visit to the New World on which he left Spain in May 1497 and returned in October 1498. Some modern scholars[b] doubt that the voyage took place, however, and consider the letter a forgery.[22] Whoever wrote the letter makes numerous observations about native customs, including the use of hammocks and sweat lodges.[23]

Second voyage

In 1499 Vespucci joined an expedition in the service of Spain with Alonso de Ojeda as fleet commander and Juan de la Cosa as chief navigator. Vespucci and his backers financed two of the three ships in the small fleet. Their intention was to explore the coast of a new landmass found by Columbus on his third voyage. Although Columbus still thought he had reached Asia, this landmass would turn out to be a new continent, South America. After reaching the coast of present-day Guyana, Vespucci and Ojeda separated. Vespucci sailed south, discovering the mouth of the Amazon River and reaching 3° south before turning around. Vespucci retraced his route, passing Trinidad and the Orinoco River before returning to Spain via Hispaniola. It is unclear whether he ever rejoined Ojeda after their initial separation.[24] The letter, to Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de' Medici, says that Vespucci determined his longitude celestially on August 23, 1499 on this voyage. The claim may be fraudulent, however, which could cast doubt on the letter's credibility.[citation needed]

Third voyage (Letter to Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de' Medici)

Engraving of Vespucci with inscription
Engraving of Vespucci by Crispijn van de Passe which calls him the "discoverer and conqueror of Brazilian land"

Vespucci's last certain voyage was led by Gonçalo Coelho in 1501–1502 in the service of Portugal. Departing from Lisbon, the fleet sailed first to Cape Verde and met two of Pedro Álvares Cabral's ships returning from India. In a letter from Cape Verde, Vespucci said that he hoped to visit the same lands that Álvares Cabral had explored (suggesting an intention to sail west to Asia as on the 1499–1500 voyage).[25] Reaching the coast of Brazil, they sailed south along the coast of South America to the Rio de Janeiro bay. If Vespucci's account is correct, he reached the latitude of Patagonia before turning back; this seems doubtful, however, since his account does not mention the broad estuary of the Río de la Plata which he would have seen if he had reached that far south. Portuguese maps of South America created after Coelho and Vespucci's voyage do not show any land south of present-day Cananéia (25° S), which may have been the southernmost extent of their voyages.

After the first half of the expedition, Vespucci mapped Alpha Centauri, Beta Centauri, the constellation Crux, and the Coalsack Nebula.[26] Although these stars had been known to the ancient Greeks, gradual axial precession had lowered them beneath the European horizon and they had been forgotten. Returning to Lisbon, Vespucci wrote in a letter from Seville to Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de' Medici that the land masses they explored were much larger than anticipated and different from the Asia described by Ptolemy or Marco Polo; therefore, they must be a New World: a previously-unknown fourth continent in addition to Europe, Asia, and Africa.[27]

Fourth voyage

Engraving of Vespucci awakening a native woman
Vespucci awakens "America" in a 1638 Jan Galle engraving

Vespucci's fourth voyage, another expedition for the Portuguese crown down the east coast of Brazil, set out in May 1503 and returned in June 1504. Like his reported first voyage, Vespucci's fourth (and final) voyage is also disputed.[28] The only source for this last voyage is the Soderini Letter;[29] since several modern scholars dispute Vespucci's authorship of that letter, it is uncertain whether Vespucci undertook this trip.[b] Portuguese documents confirm a voyage in 1503–04 by Gonçalo Coelho (probably the same captain as the 1501 mapping expedition, Vespucci's third voyage), so it is possible that Vespucci went on this one as well. It is not independently confirmed that Vespucci was aboard, and there are difficulties with reported dates and details.[30] The letters were controversial after Vespucci's death (particularly among supporters of Columbus, who believed that Columbus' achievement was being denigrated), and damaged Vespucci's reputation.[31]

Personal life

Vespucci, a cousin of the husband of Simonetta Vespucci, married Maria Cerezo. One of the few references to Maria is in a royal decree in 1512,[c] giving her a lifetime pension of ten thousand maravedís per year (deducted from the salary of Vespucci's successor).[32] They had no children.[33]

Final years

Soon after his return to Spain, Vespucci became a Spanish citizen. On March 22, 1508, he was made the country's pilot major by Ferdinand II of Aragon in honor of his discoveries. Vespucci ran a school for navigators in Seville's Casa de Contratación. He died on February 22, 1512 at his home in Seville.[34][35]


a Europeans had long conceptualized the Afro-Eurasian landmass as divided into the same three continents known today: Europe, Asia, and Africa. When cosmographers realized that the New World was not connected to the Old (but before it was fully mapped), they considered the Americas a single, fourth continent.
b The authenticity of Vespucci's authorship of the 1504 Mundus Novus and the 1505 Letter of Soderini, the only two texts published during his lifetime, was questioned by Magnaghi (1924). He suggested that the Soderini letter was not written by Vespucci, but was cobbled together by unscrupulous Florentine publishers who combined several accounts – some from Vespucci, others from elsewhere. Magnaghi was the first to propose that only the second and third voyages were true (since they are corroborated in Vespucci's other manuscript letters), and the first and fourth voyages (only found in the Soderini letter) were fabricated by publishers. The later (1937) discovery of a corroborating Vespucci manuscript letter for the first voyage – the "Ridolfi fragment" (Formisiano, 1992: pp. 37–44) – means that only the fourth voyage is found in Soderini alone. The Magnaghi thesis has been a divisive factor in Vespucci scholarship. It was accepted and popularized by Pohl (1944) and rejected by Arciniegas (1955), who posited that all four voyages were truthful. Formisiano (1992) also rejects the Magnaghi thesis (acknowledging that publishers probably tampered with Vespucci's writings) and declares all four voyages genuine, but differs from Arciniegas in details (particularly the first voyage). Fernández-Armesto (2007: p. 128) calls the authenticity question "inconclusive", and hypothesizes that the first voyage was probably another version of the second; the third is unassailable, and the fourth is probably true.
c Ober gives the date of the decree as May 22, but Catholic Encyclopedia has it as March 28.


  1. ^ "Vespucci". Collins English Dictionary.
  2. ^ See Encyclopædia Britannica Online "Amerigo Vespucci" and Room, Adrian (2004), Placenames of the world: origins and meanings of the names for over 5000 natural features, countries, capitals, territories, cities and historic sights; the Americas are believed to have derived their name from the feminized Latin version of his first name.
  3. ^ Rival explanations have been proposed; see Arciniegas, Germán. Amerigo and the New World: The Life & Times of Amerigo Vespucci. Translated by Harriet de Onís. New York: Octagon Books, 1978.[page needed] Although speculation exists that the name's origin may be Richard Amerike BBC or the Amerrique region of Nicaragua, neither theory has been accepted by mainstream academics.
  4. ^ "Amerigo Vespucci".
  5. ^ a b c d e Formisano, Luciano (Ed.) (1992). Letters from a New World: Amerigo Vespucci's Discovery of America. New York: Marsilio. ISBN 0-941419-62-2. Pp. xix–xxvi.
  6. ^ a b c d Pohl 1944
  7. ^ a b c d e Fernández-Armesto 2007
  8. ^ a b c d Germán Arciniegas, Amerigo and the New World : The Life & Times of Amerigo Vespucci, translated by Harriet de Onís, Octagon (1978) ISBN 0-374-90280-1
  9. ^ Fernández-Armesto 2007 pp 47-57
  10. ^ Brinkbaumer 2004 pp 104-109
  11. ^ Fernández-Armesto 2007 pp 56-58
  12. ^ C.R. Markham (1894) "Introduction", in The Letters of Amerigo Vespucci and other documents illustrative of his career. London: Hakluyt.
  13. ^ Fernández-Armesto 2007 pp 51-52
  14. ^ Vigneras, Louis-Andre (1976). The Discovery of South America and the Andalusian Voyages. University of Chicago Press. pp. 47–63.
  15. ^ Fernández-Armesto 2007 pp 63-65
  16. ^ a b Lester, Toby (December 2009). "The Waldseemüller Map: Charting the New World". Smithsonian.
  17. ^ Roukema, E. (1962). "The Mythical "First Voyage" of the "Soderini Letter"". Imago Mundi. 16: 70–75. doi:10.1080/03085696208592202. JSTOR 1150303.
  18. ^ Ray, p. 93
  19. ^ Ober, p. 234
  20. ^ Vespucci, Amerigo. "Letter from Seville to Lorenzo di Pier Francesco de' Medici, 1500." Pohl, Frederick J. Amerigo Vespucci: Pilot Major. New York: Columbia University Press, 1945. 76–90. Page 80.
  21. ^ Mundus Novus: Letter to Lorenzo Pietro Di Medici, by Amerigo Vespucci; translated by George Tyler Northrup, Princeton University Press, 1916.
  22. ^ "Life of Amerigo Vespucci". Archived from the original on March 28, 2010. Retrieved February 28, 2010.
  23. ^ "Account of alleged 1497 voyage". Retrieved February 28, 2010.
  24. ^ Vigneras, Louis-Andre (1976). The Discovery of South America and the Andalusian Voyages. University of Chicago Press.
  25. ^ O'Gorman, Edmundo (1961). The Invention of America. Indiana University Press. pp. 106–107.
  26. ^ Dekker, Elly (1990), Annals of Science, vol. 47, pp. 535–543.
  27. ^ "Amerigo Vespucci". HISTORY. Retrieved October 13, 2018.
  28. ^ Ray, p. 91
  29. ^ Markham, pp. 52–56
  30. ^ Fernández-Armesto (2007: pp. 168–169).
  31. ^ Ray, pp. 96–97; Arciniegas (1955: p. 16)
  32. ^ Ober, p. 235.
  33. ^  Uzielli, Gustavo (1913). "Amerigo Vespucci" . In Herbermann, Charles (ed.). Catholic Encyclopedia. 15. New York: Robert Appleton.
  34. ^ Hoogenboom, Lynn (September 1, 2005). Amerigo Vespucci: A Primary Source Biography. The Rosen Publishing Group. ISBN 978-1-4042-3037-8.
  35. ^ Donaldson-Forbes, Jeff (January 1, 2002). Amerigo Vespucci. The Rosen Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-8239-5833-7.

Further reading

  • Arciniegas, German (1955) Amerigo and the New World: The Life & Times of Amerigo Vespucci. New York: Knopf. 1955 English translation by Harriet de Onís. First edition published in Spanish in 1952 as Amerigo y el Nuevo Mundo, Mexico: Hermes.
  • Brinkbaumer, Klaus; Hoges, Clemens (2004). The Voyage of the Vizcaina. Translated by Streck, Annette. Harcourt. pp. 105–109. ISBN 9780151011865.
  • Fernández-Armesto, Felipe (2007) Amerigo: The Man Who Gave his Name to America. New York: Random House.
  • Formisano, Luciano (1992) Letters from a New World: Amerigo Vespucci's Discovery of America. New York: Marsilio.
  • Magnaghi, Alberto (1924) Amerigo Vespucci: Studio critico, con speciale riguardo ad una nuova valutazione delle fonti e con documenti inediti tratti dal Codice Vaglienti, 2 vols, 1926 (2nd.) ed., Rome: Treves
  • Markham, Clements R., ed. (1894) The Letters of Amerigo Vespucci, and Other Documents Illustrative of His Career. Hakluyt Society. (Reissued by Cambridge University Press, 2010. ISBN 978-1-108-01286-7)
  • Ober, Frederick A. (1907) Amerigo Vespucci New York: Harper & Brothers
  • Pohl, Frederick J. (1944). Amerigo Vespucci: Pilot Major. New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Schulz, Norbert Amerigo Vespucci, Mundus Novus (mit Zweittexten). M.M.O., Verlag zur Förderung des Mittel- und Neulat (Vivarium (Series neolatina, Band II)) ISBN 978-3-9811144-2-3
  • Thomas, Hugh (2003). Rivers of Gold. New York: Random House. pp. 269–276. ISBN 0375502041.
  • Ray, Kurt (2003) Amerigo Vespucci: Italian Explorer of the Americas, The Rosen Publishing Group, 2003 ISBN 0-8239-3615-5.
  • Amerigo Vespucci (Charles Lester Edwards, Amerigo Vespucci) [2009] Viartis ISBN 978-1-906421-02-1

External links