Arte de Navegar

R/3405 - Biblioteca Nacional de España (Madrid, Spain)

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Codiology

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The eight-volume treatise by Pedro de Medina (1493-1567) is a cornerstone of navigation and one of the most important works of the 16th century, which had a long-lasting impact on the development of the science of navigation. It was a hugely popular work compiled from a lifetime of experience as a navigator in the employ of the Spanish Crown, including numerous journeys to the New World. As such, it was published in dozens of editions in French, Dutch, German, Italian, and English. Although beautifully printed with illustrative woodcuts and engraved initials, this is above all a practical and informative text meant to cover all aspects of navigation.

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Arte de Navegar

The first codex with specific navigational techniques to be published in Spain was a cornerstone of the evolving science of navigation and was published in dozens of editions in French, Dutch, German, Italian, and English. The eight-volume treatise by Pedro de Medina (1493-1567) was published on October 1st, 1545 in the printing workshop of Francisco Fernández de Córdoba. Several abridged versions intended for a nonspecialist audience were created including the Regimiento de navegación, published in 1552 along with an updated edition in 1563, and an unpublished Suma da Cosmographia from 1561. All of this attests to the tremendous popularity that Medina’s work enjoyed and would continue to enjoy well into the 17th century.

An Instructive Eight-Volume Text

Medina’s eight-volume treatise on navigation is designed to be instructive, and as such is illustrated by woodcuts. The text is printed in a clear, bold Gothic script with black and red ink, engraved initials, and neat frames. It was a hugely informative work compiled from a lifetime of experience as a navigator in the employ of the Spanish Crown, including numerous journeys to the New World. It is a work fit for a king and is dedicated to the future King Philip II of Spain (1527-98), referred to in the work as the “Serene Royal Highness, Don Phelipe, Prince of Spain and the Two Sicilies” and as such bears various escutcheons and other similar devices. Nonetheless, this is above all a practical and informative text meant to cover all aspects of navigation.

A Navigational Reformer

Pedro de Medina originated either from Seville or Medina-Sidonia, considered by some to be the oldest city in Europe and possibly founded by the Phoenicians. He appears to have gained practical experience in the art of navigation while operating in an official capacity for the Kingdom of Spain, specifically with relation to the exploration and colonialization of the New World. As such, he inspected and wrote books on navigation, having those that were incorrect banned, including that of his rival, Diego Gutiérrez. Medina further contributed to the Spanish mastery of the sea by improving on the training of navigators as well as the maps and instrument they relied on. These reforms to the navigational methods of the Spanish not only benefited them, but the dissemination of this information into numerous languages and lands through his Arte de Navegar was a major contribution to the evolution of modern navigational techniques on the high seas.

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