Amerigo Vespucci

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Amerigo Vespucci : biography

March 9, 1454 – February 22, 1512

The two disputed letters claim that Vespucci made four voyages to America, while at most two can be verified from other sources. At the moment there is a dispute between historians on when Vespucci visited mainland the first time. Some historians like German Arciniegas and Gabriel Camargo Perez think that his first voyage was done in June 1497 with the Spanish Pilot Juan de la Cosa. Vespucci’s real historical importance may well rest more in his letters, whether he wrote them all or not, than in his discoveries. From these letters, the European public learned about the newly discovered continents of the Americas for the first time; its existence became generally known throughout Europe within a few years of the letters’ publication.

Personal

Vespucci was cousins with Simonetta Vespucci.

Notes

Europeans had long conceptualized the Afro-Eurasian landmass as divided into the same three continents known today: Europe, Asia, and Africa. Once cosmographers realized that the New World was not connected to the Old (but before its true geography was fully mapped), they considered the Americas to be a single, fourth continent.
The question of the authenticity of Vespucci’s authorship of the 1504 Mundus Novus and the 1505 Letter of Soderini, the only two texts published in Vespucci’s lifetime, was famously raised by Magnaghi (1924). He proposed the Soderini letter was not written by Vespucci, but rather cobbled together by unscrupulous Florentine publishers, cutting and pasting together various accounts, some from Vespucci, others from elsewhere. Magnaghi was the first to propose that only the second and third voyages were true (as they are corroborated in Vespucci’s other manuscript letters), while the first and fourth voyages (which are only found in the Soderini text) were fabricated by the publishers. The later (1937) discovery of a corrobotary Vespucci manuscript letter for the first voyage – the "Ridolfi fragment" (Formisiano, 1992: p.37-44) – means only the fourth voyage is really found in Soderini alone. The Magnaghi thesis has been a bitterly divisive factor in Vespucci scholarship. The Magnaghi thesis was accepted and popularized by Pohl (1944) but rejected by Arciniegas (1955), who posited all four voyages as truthful. Formisiano (1992) also rejects the Magnaghi thesis (although recognizing publishers probably fiddled with it), and declares all four voyages genuine, but in details (esp. the first) differing from Arciniegas. Fernández-Armesto (2007: p.128) declares the authenticity question "inconclusive", hypothesizes that the first voyage is probably just another version of the second, the third is unassailable, and the fourth probably true (but too mangled to be sure).

Background

Amerigo Vespucci was born and raised in Florence, Italy. He was the third son of Ser Nastagio (Anastasio), a Florentine notary, and Lisabetta Mini.C.R. Markham (1894) "Introduction", in The Letters of Amerigo Vespucci and other documents illustrative of his career. London: Hakluyt. Amerigo Vespucci was educated by his uncle, Fra Giorgio Antonio Vespucci, a Dominican friar of San Marco in Florence.

While his elder brothers were sent to the University of Pisa to pursue scholarly careers, Amerigo Vespucci embraced a mercantile life, and was hired as a clerk by the Florentine commercial house of Medici, headed by Lorenzo de Medici. Vespucci acquired the favor and protection of Lorenzo Pierfrancesco de Medici who became the head of the business after the elder Lorenzo’s death in 1492. In March 1492, the Medici dispatched the thirty-eight-year-old Vespucci and Donato Niccolini as confidential agents to look into the Medici branch office in Cadiz (Spain), whose managers and dealings were under suspicion. In April, 1495, by the intrigues of Bishop Juan Rodríguez de Fonseca, the Crown of Castile broke their monopoly deal with Christopher Columbus and began handing out licenses to other navigators for the West Indies. Just around this time (1495–96), Vespucci was engaged as the executor of Giannotto Berardi, an Italian merchant who had recently died in Seville. Vespucci organized the fulfillment of Berardi’s outstanding contract with the Castilian crown to provide twelve vessels for the Indies. After these were delivered, Vespucci continued as a provision contractor for Indies expeditions, and is known to have secured beef supplies for at least one (if not two) of Columbus’s voyages.