... vraye relation des terres, païs du grand Roy,
CORSALI, Andrea, 1487-?; ALVARES, Francisco, 1465-c.1541
Empereur Prete-Ian, l'assiette de ses royaumes et provinces, leurs coutumes, loix, religion, avec les pourtraits de leur temples autres singularitez, cy devant non cogneues. Avec la table des choses memorables contenues en icelle. En Anvers [Antwerp] : De l'Imprimerie de Christopher Plantin, à la licorne d'or, 1558. Foolscap octavo, early twentieth century dark blue crushed morocco binding, gilt decorated spine and boards, gilt inner dentelles, marbled endpapers, all edges gilt, front pastedown with armorial bookplate of Samuel Ashton Thompson Yates (1842-1903), title page with indistinct early ownership inscription, 15, 341 ff., woodcut device on title and 7 woodcut illustrations in the text, the first being Corsali's diagram of the Southern Cross, the others being Ethiopian churches, index; preliminary leaf 4 with large repaired tear without loss, short closed tear to upper part of ff 172 without loss, a few sixteenth century marginalia, otherwise a fine copy.
The first separate French edition of this important Renaissance travel work, based on the French translation, published in Lyon in 1556, of the first volume of Navigationi et viaggi by Giovanni Battista Ramusio. The work was originally published in Portuguese, in Lisbon in 1540, as Verdadera informaçam das terras do Preste Ioam. This French edition contains the correspondence of Helena, Queen of Abyssinia, the Italian explorer Andrea Corsali, King John I of Portugal, and Negus David II of Ethiopia. Francisco Alvares, Portuguese missionary and explorer, was a member of the Portuguese embassy to the Ethiopian emperor Lebna Dengel between the years 1520 and 1527. Alvares' account of Ethiopia provided the first detailed description of that country for a European audience.
The Florentine explorer Andrea Corsali worked in the service of the Medicis, and the inclusion of two of his letters in this work is due to the fact that he spent the last part of his life in Ethiopia. In 1515 he had travelled on board a Portuguese merchant ship on a voyage that made its way around Africa, across the Indian Ocean to Goa, Cochin and into the Pacific. Corsali was the first Westerner to identify the Southern Cross, and his description and illustration of this constellation (reproduced on leaf 8 in the present work), which he had carefully observed while crossing the Indian Ocean, were originally published in his Lettera (Florence, 1516), addressed to his patron, Giuliano de Medici, from Cochin (only three known copies of the 1516 edition survive). A second edition was printed in 1517. The cruciform analogy used by Corsali to describe the constellation was adopted by navigators very early on, and by the early seventeenth century the terminology had become fixed in the various languages of the European maritime powers.
In Alvares' work of 1558, this important Lettera appears as the first of two written by Corsali. Corsali was the first European to identify the island of New Guinea, and the Lettera also contains references to this discovery. He also postulates the existence of a continent to the south of New Guinea, a highly significant early allusion to Terra Australis.
Given the exceptional rarity of the 1516 and 1517 editions, the 1558 French edition of Corsali's Lettera remains the most realistically obtainable of the early editions of this work.
A single copy is recorded in Australian collections (State Library of New South Wales).
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