Francisco Alvares

(Andrea Corsali)

Historiale description de l'Ethiopie , contenant vraye relation des terres, & païs du gran Roy, & Empereur Prete-Ian, l'assiette des ses Royaumes & Provinces, leurs coutumes, loix, & religion, avec les pourtraits de leurs temples & autres singularitez, cy devant non cogneues. Christopher Plantin, Contiene copia della lettera del Corsali del 1516, Antwerp, 1558.




Francisco Alvares


Historiale description de l'Ethiopie , contenant vraye relation des terres, & païs du gran Roy, & Empereur Prete-Ian, l'assiette des ses Royaumes & Provinces, leurs coutumes, loix, & religion, avec les pourtraits de leurs temples & autres singularitez, cy devant non cogneues. Antwerp: Christopher Plantin, 1558.


Contiene copia della lettera del Corsali del 1516



Nell’edizione in francese del testo di Alvares dedicato all’Etiopia è contenuta una rara traduzione in francese delle due lettere che il Corsali inviò a Firenze e a Venezia per informare rispettivamente Giuliano de Medici ed il Doge delle nuove scoperte nel cielo australe. La tavola che presento, che contiene la rappresentazione della Croce del Sud e delle due nubi di Magellano, è relativa alla lettera rivolta a Giuliano de Medici e la riproduco con una introduzione a cura di Hordern Haus- Sydney,

 che attualmente mette in vendita il raro libro di Alvares. 



Small octavo, printed in italic and roman letter, xxx, [2], 341 leaves numbered on rectos only, with a woodcut of the stars of the Southern Cross and six woodcut plans of Ethiopian churches; a fine copy in eighteenth-century English red morocco, gilt-ruled borders on the sides with flower-pieces at the corners, spine panelled in gilt between raised bands, dark green leather label; spine slightly darkened; marbled endpapers, all edges gilt; in a red morocco folding case, ornately gilt. Item #3906195 

With the Southern Cross: one of the great travel books of the Renaissance.

A delightful copy of the first edition in French, in a most attractive English binding. Alvares' book includes a narrative of great significance to the southern hemisphere and the way there: Corsali's description of his identification of the Southern Cross along with the famous image illustrating the cross. The main purpose of the book was to print the eyewitness account, by its chaplain, of the first Portuguese embassy to reach Ethiopia in 1520-26, here in its first separate edition in French. First published in Portuguese in 1540 as "Verdadera informaçam das terras do Preste Ioam", this was the earliest first-hand description of Ethiopia by a known European and of great importance for the history of the country, not least for its unequivocal identification of King David of Ethiopia as the Prester John of the Indies, the legendary figure who had inspired Christendom since the twelfth century. Ethiopia in the sixteenth century stood for something even more exotic than it actually was, often appearing in early texts signifying a place as far away geographically and culturally as it was possible to imagine. From Herodotus onwards, the name was often used to mean all of the African continent south of Egypt. The book also includes the description of the first identification of the Southern Cross. Alvares's narrative is preceded in this edition (though not in the original Portuguese version) by the two letters of Andrea Corsali, included here because this Florentine traveller ended his days in Ethiopia. In 1515 Corsali, an Italian under the patronage of the Medici family, accompanied a Portuguese voyage down the African coast, around the Cape of Good Hope, and into the Southern and Indian Oceans, making landfall at Goa on the Indian coast, later travelling down to Cochin at the foot of India. After rounding the Cape, he had observed the curious behaviour of an unrecorded group of stars, which he described and illustrated in a letter - the first of the two printed here - narrating his voyage that he sent back from Cochin to his patron Giuliano de Medici in Florence. Corsali's description and illustration of the constellation was the first to outline its shape in detail as a cross: after the publication of his Lettera the term "cross" or "crosiers" recurs frequently and in 1606, for example, Quiros, on his quest for the Southern Continent, instructed his captains to ascertain their position at night by the "crucero". The narrative also contains a tantalising reference to a continental land in the vicinity of New Guinea, which alone would make the Lettera an important element in the canon of pre-Cook discovery of Australia and the Pacific. The first editions of Corsali's two letters appeared in Italian in 1516 and 1517 respectively and both are of utmost rarity; the important 1516 letter is known in only three copies, one of which at one time belonged, as did this book, to the controversial English collector and aesthete William Beckford. This is one of two issues of the first edition in French, this having the imprint of Christopher Plantin; the other issue had the imprint of Jean Bellère, who was also the translator. No edition in English would appear for more than three hundred years. This copy has an exceptionally good provenance, having belonged to William Beckford (Hamilton Palace Sale, 30 June 1882, lot 175); Joannes Gennadius (Sotheby's, 2 March 1898), note on flyleaf; Henry J.B. Clements, with his bookplate; the explorer Wilfred Thesiger, with his bookplate (Sotheby's, Nov 21, 1991, lot 347); Henry Winterton (Sotheby's, May 28, 2003, lot 18); and finally the great collector of Ethiopian material (among many other things) Bent Juel-Jensen, with his distinctive Amharic bookplate.




Tavola dal Corsali







Lo schema di Corsali relativo alle stelle del Circolo Polare Antartico

è stato riprodotto da un pittore anonimo per affrescare la volta del Palazzo rinascimentale

 Besta di Teglio in Valtellina


La creazione del cielo a Palazzo Besta,  Teglio circa 1550



vedi anche


Andrea Corsali e la Croce del Sud


di Pasqua Gandolfi per Giulia Grazi Bracci






di Eduardo Vila-Echagüe




Segue saggio a cura di 


Anne McCormick e Derek McDonnell


per cortesia di 


Hordern House


National Library of Australia





La tavola di Corsali nella stampa inglese del 1555 di R. Eden







Andrea Corsali



Copia della "Lettera di Andrea Corsali allo illustrissimo Principe Duca Juliano de Medici, venuta Dellindia del mese di Octobre nel XDXVI"



La mappa di Corsali sarebbe rappresentata per la prima volta in una carta dell'emisfero australe prodotta nel 1530 da Eufrosino della Volpaia ora però introvabile.

Vedi a questo proposito il capitolo ad essa dedicato da Debora J. Warner nel suo The Sky Explored, Celestial Cartography 1500-1800, Amsterdam e New York 1979, pagina 259

e la seguente pagina a cura di Astronomie in Nürnberg: