Stock number: 18932
Americae Retectio (The Discovery of America).
Iconic 16th century allegorical depictions of exploration and discovery.
Engraved by Adriaen Collaert (1560-1618), after drawings by Johannes Stradanus.
Antwerp, Philip Galle, 1585 - 1592. Four plates, each c. 212 x 282mm.
“One of the Rarest Picture Atlases” (Tooley).
A set of fine, early impressions of these exceptionally rare prints. The title page in first state (of two). Christopher Columbus and Amerigo Vespucci in second, final state (with the plate number; Hollstein records only one impression of each before the number, in Paris). Ferdinand Magellan only state. In excellent condition.
The master prints are engraved by Adriaen Collaert after now-lost drawings by Johannes Stradanus (Jan van der Straet), a Flemish artist who worked in Florence mostly for the Medici family. Americae Retectio is a so-called “picture atlas,” issued in 1585 as a print suite in leaflet form to honor the great 16th century explorers of the Americas and the Pacific.
The prints were re-issued in 1592 to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of Columbus' discovery of the New World. The four engravings comprise the allegorical title-page and the successive explorations of Christopher Columbus, Amerigo Vespucci, and Ferdinand Magellan, each on the deck of their ships and surrounded by mythological gods, seanymphs, mermaids, sea monsters and other wonders. Of particular note are the large bird carrying an elephant in the engraving of Magellan, and the merman and mermaid holding a dismembered body in the engraving of Vespucci.
The title plate has a globe with allegorical figures of Flora (representing Florence) and Janus (Genoa) unveiling a globe. The coat of arms of each city is depicted just beyond each of these figures. Above them are medallion portraits of Vespucci (from Florence) and of Columbus (from Genoa). Magellan is alluded to by the indication of Magellanica on the globe. Under the globe is Oceanus (Neptune), the "Father of the Waters". At the bottom is a bird eye’s view of the coastline of Liguria from Livorno to Savona. Florence is in the lower left (Fiorenza) and Genoa in the middle. The Latin verse underneath translates as: Who has a Heart Mighty Enough to Fashion a Song Worthy of these Majestic Events and Discoveries? Bottom right is a dedication to Luigi and Aloyzio Alamanni of Florence.
On the second plate Columbus, in full armor, stands on the deck of his caravel, under the flag of Castille, holding the papal banner. Around him are Neptune in a chariot, Diana standing in the shallows (representing landfall) and various sea-monsters and mermaids. In front are three unnamed islands, Cuba, Jamaica and Hispaniola, with the American continent in the background. The verse translates: Christopher Columbus of Liguria, Overcoming the Terrors of the Ocean, Added to the Spanish Crown with Regions of Almost Another World that he Discovered.
On the third plate Vespucci stands on his deck, holding a quadrant. Above his head is a pennant with his own emblem of wasps (Vespe). Around him are Hercules, holding some lilies (symbol of Florence); Mars riding a Tortoise drawn by four lions; and a pair of aquatic cannibals, holding severed limbs. The verse translates as: Americus Vespucci of Florence in a Portentious Expedition to the West and to the South Opened up Two Parts of the Earth, Larger than the Shores which we Inhabit and not Known to us Before, One of which by Common Consent of All Human Beings is Called by his Name America. This plate is the earliest picture of American fauna, pre-dating John White's drawings.
The final plate has Magellan in armor seated on deck, under the flag of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V. On the left is Tierra del Fuego, on the right a Patagonian giant is shown swallowing an arrow. A monstrous bird flies overhead carrying an elephant in its claws. The verse translates as: Ferdinand Magellan of Portugal Passing Through the Winding Straits Gave his Name to the Land of the South and his Ship, the First of All and the Last, Emulating the Passage of the Sun Over the Earth, Circumnavigated the Entire Globe.
The plates were re-engraved and on a smaller scale, for part 4 of De Bry's Great Voyages.
Tooley, One of the Rarest Picture Atlases, The Map Collector, March 1978 (Issue 2), pp. 22-24.
Johannes Stradanus, or Giovanni Stradano, or Jan van der Straet or van der Straat, or Stradanus or Stratensis (Bruges 1523 – Florence 2 November 1605) was a Flanders-born mannerist artist active mainly in 16th century Florence, Italy. Born in Bruges, he began his training in the shop of his father, then in Antwerp with Pieter Aertsen.
By 1545, he had joined the Antwerp guild of Saint Luke or painters' guild, the equivalent of the Roman (Accademia San Luca). He reached Florence in 1550, where he entered in the service of the Medici Dukes and Giorgio Vasari. The Medici court was his main patron, and he designed a number of scenes for tapestries and frescoes to decorate the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, the Medici Villa at Poggio a Caiano, and providing illustrations for the Arazzeria Medicea. He also worked for the Pazzi Family in their estates in Montemurlo.
Many of his drawings became so popular they were translated into prints. Stradanus collaborated with printmakers Hieronymus Cock and the Galle family in Antwerp to produce hundreds of prints on a variety of subjects. He also worked with Francesco Salviati in the decoration of the Vatican Belvedere. He was one of the artists involved in the Studiolo of Francesco I (1567-1577), to which he contributed two paintings including "The Alchemist's Studio".
Karel van Mander wrote about Stradanus in his Schilder-boeck (book of famous painters), mentioning that he was 74 in 1603 and still a member of the Florence drawing academy. He also mentioned his pupil Antonio Tempesta, who painted ships and Amazon battle scenes (bataljes), mainly in 16th century Florence, Italy.
Johannes Stradanus is one of the most well-known unknown artists in history. Even though the Bruges-born painter (1523-1605) had a more than successful career in the highly competitive city of Florence in the second half of the 16th century, his name long remained a well-hidden secret for specialists only. Many of his works, though, are very well known.
Around 1570, Stradanus – who began as designer of tapestries and fresco painter in service of the Medici – started a second career as draughtsman and designer of hundreds of prints. These were engraved, published and distributed all over the then-known world by Antwerp publishers in huge numbers. It are these works – widely collected, copied and used – which secured Stradanus’s place in art history as an inventive and influential artist.
Johannes Stradanus died in Florence in 1605.
New Hollstein (Dutch and Flemish) 342-345 (Johannes Stradanus).
Stevens & Tooley: Map Collector 2, p.22-24, "One of the Rarest Picture Atlases".
van Mander: Schilder-boeck, 1604.
Sellink: Stradanus (1523-1605), Court Artist of the Medici, 2008.
Markey: Renaissance Invention - Stradanus's Nova Reperta, 2020.