MEDINA, Pietro de


MEDINA, Pietro de L’arte del Navegar

Venice, Aurelio Pinzi for Giovanni Battista Pederzano, 1554


FIRST EDITION thus, 4to. ff. (xii), 137, (i). Text in Roman, headlines and calendar in Italic, a little Gothic, large woodcut on title page depicting different vessels navigating the sea, repeated on C1r, full-page woodcut map of the Atlantic and adjacent continents on leaf E1r, 8 other full page illustrations at the beginning of each section, depicting the earth, sun, moon and a wind chart, large historiated and smaller floriated initials, several text illustrations including diagrams (seasonal locations of the sun, etc.) and tables, small world map at the head of books 3 and 8. Some light scattered damp-staining and mainly marginal spotting throughout, title page a little dusty, light marking in places, very tiny wormholes to blank corner in central gatherings. A good copy in contemporary limp vellum, somewhat soiled and worn, slight worming, in folding box.

Rare first edition of the first Italian translation of this practical manual of navigation, the first to provide reliable instruction on the navigation of American waters, originally published in 1545 in Spanish in Valladolid. The translation was made by Fra’ Vincenzo Paletino from Curzola (c.1508-1571), a prominent figure in the history of Spanish cartography (see R. Gallo, ‘Fra Vincenzo Paletino e la sua carta della Spagna’, in ‘Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei’, 1947, pp. 159-67). The work contains a full-page map of the Atlantic depicting ships on routes between Spain and the New World (Burden, 14). The woodcuts are reduced copies of the cuts of the first edition. The full-page map includes Florida, the mouth of the Mississippi and the area around the gulf of St. Lawrence. The information in the “Arte del Navegar” was based on the first-hand accounts of pilots using the Indies trade route. It remained the standard navigation guide for this route until the 17th century.

Pedro de Medina (1493-1567) was a maker of nautical instruments and a cartographer who also worked for the Casa de Contratación in Seville, the agency in charge of Spanish colonial exploration and trade. He might have been one of Cortés’s captains at some point, and his treatise was written specifically for the education of pilots in the Casa, making it a very clear and practical text with many illustrations and explanations of various instruments and their use. Medina dedicated it to Prince Philip of Spain, later King Philip II of Spain, lamenting the fact that so many sailors were ignorant of the art of navigation. As the great transoceanic voyages began, from the end of the XV century onward, the problem of accurate measurement of longitude at sea, on long voyages out of sight of land, became crucial. Medina’s work provided an overview of existing knowledge on the subject and set out theoretical and methodological principles pioneering attempts to solve the longitude problem in the Atlantic Ocean.

The two dedicatory letters, to Philip of Spain from the author, and to Stefano Tiepolo, Procurator of Venice, from the translator cosmographer Fra’ Vincenzo Paletino point out the fundamental role played by navigation in the Spanish discovery of new lands, resources (precious minerals, stones and spices) and peoples, as well as in the mission of Christian conversion. It makes it clear that navigation is a dangerous art and must follow specific rules and methods based on arithmetic, geometry and cosmography. Medina particularly stresses the importance of instruments such as the astrolabe to measure the curvature of the earth, and the compass, made of iron, to determine wind direction, useful on high sea. The work is divided into 8 chapters: 1) earth and its composition (sky, elements and movements of planets, position in the Universe); 2) seas and ancient art of navigation; 3) winds, names and related techniques of navigation; knowledge of meridians based on the calculation of the rhumb lines to establish ships’ location; 4) sun and its positions, shadows; 5) distance from different places to the poles; 6) compass, making, use and repair; 7) moon phases; 8) length of the year and of the days in different places.

Rare. BM STC It. 431; Adams M 1025; Palau 159679; Burden 14; Alden 554/39; Harvard/Mortimer-Italian 300; Sabin 47346. Brunet mentions earlier editions only.

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