Vespucci’s Triangle and the Shape of the World

Amerigo VespucciVespucci’s Triangle and the Shape of the World

Stephanie Leitch

Cadernos de Letras (UFRJ): n.29 – Nov. (2013)


Interdisciplinary interactions between sixteenth-century travellers and cosmographers produced visual models that challenged normative modes of visual thinking, even as they tried to clarify ideas about the earth’s surface. For example, the unstable image that serves as a title-page of a slight mercantile pamphlet produced in Nuremberg c. 1506 (Fig. 1) is vexing both in its demand to be viewed from multiple points of view and its reticence about its content. From the accompanying text, it can be inferred that the image expresses the path of an itinerary to India and collapses notionally the distance between Europe and India via a schematic map layered over a pictorial image – a right triangle super-imposed on a rocky landmass, itself shorthand for the inhabited world. The peculiar image cannot be deciphered without considering both its pictorial properties and its two-dimensional diagrammatic cues.

Part of what makes certain early modern printed images perplexing to contemporary audiences is the distance from their original contexts: many were pirated from diverse and frequently unrelated sources. In the case of contemporary travel reports about new lands encountered by sea-faring Europeans in the early 16th century, recycled images of wild men or humanity’s first parents in the Garden of Eden were routinely employed as stand-ins for new world inhabitants (cf. Colin, 1987; Leitch, 2010, especially 53-62).

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