The Authenticity of Amerigo Vespucci’s Mundus Novus and Information Untold about His Third Journey

in Nuncius
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The published letter Mundus Novus, in which Amerigo Vespucci recounts his third journey to the New World, is carefully re-examined in this paper to establish its authenticity and veracity. Neither the translator of the letter nor the printer of its first edition can be identified with certainty, but one credible hypothesis is that friar Giovanni Giocondo da Verona was the translator. Analysis of the text shows no deliberate attempt at distortion or deception, only some innocent exaggerations. The author or his translator have been accused of vainglory and even obscenity, but in the context of the period such claims are unfounded and devoid of sense. An examination of the planisphere drawn up by Waldseemüller based on the data brought back by Vespucci reveals important details concerning the Patagonian cordillera and the coastline of central Chile. These details are not mentioned in Mundus Novus because of the policy of secrecy imposed by the rey of Portugal.

The Authenticity of Amerigo Vespucci’s Mundus Novus and Information Untold about His Third Journey

in Nuncius




See Leandro Perini“Due fiorentini nell’Oceano Atlantico …,” in Il mondo di Vespucci e Verrazzano: Geografia e viaggiedited by Leonardo Rombai (Firenze: Olschki 1993) pp. 125–174.


Giuseppe PallantiLa vera identità dalla Gioconda (Milano: Skira2006).


On pag. 167 in Bruno BonariAmerigo Vespucci la vita e i viaggi (Firenze: Centro editoriale toscano2011).


Tzvetan TodorovViaggiatori e indigeni (Roma-Bari: Laterza1988).


See Alfred MetrauxLa civilisation matérielle des tribus Tupi-Guarani (Paris: Librairie orientaliste Geuthner1928).


  • View in gallery
    Figure 1

    Title page to the collection of travel accounts compiled by Fracanzio Montalboddo. The mistaken rendition of Vespucci’s name appears at the top of the page.

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    Figure 2

    Comparison between two variants (quingentesimo versus quinquagesimo) in the Augsburg edition (above) and the Rome edition (below) of Mundus Novus.

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    Figure 3

    Comparison between two variants (ginnum versus gummi) in the Rome edition (above) and the Augsburg edition (below) of Mundus Novus.

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    Figure 4

    Comparison of the beginning of the fourth paragraph of Mundus Novus in the Augsburg edition (above) and in the copy of the Rome edition conserved in Siena (below), showing the anomalous typesetting of the first line of the paragraph on folio 3r in the latter edition.

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    Figure 5

    In this figure from the Rome edition of Mundus Novus, the Southern Cross (Crux) and a southern constellation in the form of a triangle are depicted based on a sketch by Vespucci and printed using elements of moveable type. Note the different types of asterisks, which I believe were intended to represent the differing degrees of luminosity of the stars. The two central images, represented using a pothook-like character, portray the Small Magellanic Cloud (above) and the dark nebula known as the Coalsack (below). From the copy of Mundus Novus conserved in the Biblioteca Comunale of Siena.

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    Figure 6

    An attempt to identify the stars seen by Vespucci by superimposing the first figure of Mundus Novus (above) on a modern star map of the southern hemisphere (below). The constellation described by Vespucci could correspond to the constellation Hydrus located inside the large triangle, whose hypotenuse touches the edge of the Small Magellanic Cloud (PNM). The large triangle contains near its barycentre the celestial Southern Pole, an important reference point for navigators.

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    Figure 7

    The land of Patagonia on the map by Waldseemüller (1507), drawn based on information provided by Vespucci. The two Portuguese pennants (with their five rings) presumably indicate the regions for which the mapmaker made specific use of data from the Florentine navigator. To be noted are the many rivers on the western side of the continent, the cordillera of the Andes represented in the style of Tuscan cartographers, the eastern coast extending south of the tropic, and the Pacific Ocean, which would be seen for the first time by a European – Vasco de Nuñez – in 1513. This figure has been retouched to eliminate the signs of ink, perhaps left when the sheet was folded before the ink had dried, or perhaps when another freshly printed sheet was laid on top of it.


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