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  • Early Modern Iberia, Indexed:Hernando Colón's Cosmography
  • Seth Kimmel

The aspiration to comprehensiveness that characterized early modern cosmography was inseparable from the humanist fantasy of a universal library. This was true not least because in seeking to fulfill their field's claim to knowledge about the cosmos as a whole, cosmographers of the period drew on an array of astronomical, mathematical, meteorological, ethnographic, zoological, botanical, mineralogical, antiquarian, and theological texts, in addition to maps and charts. Even the cartographic fieldwork that rulers like Spain's Charles V and Philip II commissioned to inventory their growing territorial possessions and reestablish epistemological consensus about the globe's circumference in the age of transatlantic exploration relied heavily on methods of information management honed in the library.1 This mutual definition of bibliographic and cosmographic practice is uniquely visible in Spain not simply because its empire expanded first and widest in this period, but also because its expansion coincided with the establishment [End Page 1] of the Escorial, a royal library that Philip II founded from scratch in San Lorenzo, near Madrid, in the 1560s, and whose comprehensiveness he hoped would rival the Vatican's collection in Rome, if not also the ancient Library of Alexandria.2

Yet, many of the cosmographic endeavors housed in the Escorial and managed by its first stewards trace their roots to another, lesser-known institution: the private library of the Seville-based collector and cosmographer Ferdinand Columbus, the illegitimate second son of Christopher Columbus. Hernando Colón, as he is known in Spanish, participated in his father's fourth transatlantic voyage and penned his first biography, worked as an ad hoc cosmographic expert for Charles V, maintained an immense botanical garden at his estate just outside the walls of Seville, and collected throughout Europe around fifteen thousand books and prints. As is especially visible in documents concerned with plans for the upkeep of his library after his death in 1539, Colón painted his work of book acquisition and cataloguing as a continuation of his father's transatlantic exploration: the father collected territories while the son collected codices. This correspondence is too neat, however. Colón's representation of his library as a metaphorical conquest of the "new world" of printed books obscured the extent to which his methods for building and organizing his library informed his practice of cosmography, rather than the other way around. Drawing on Colón's library indexes and other archives, such as manuscript notes for a peninsular land survey and documents penned by his last librarian and his estate's executor, this article reconstructs Colón's particularly bibliographic approach to cosmography.3 After documenting how Colón's Seville colleagues brought his cosmographic methods into the more widely studied scholarly community associated with the Habsburg court in and around Madrid, the article concludes with a reassessment of Colón's strategic depiction of the relationship between his own work and that of his father. [End Page 2]


Among the archival sources that detail how Hernando Colón's library functioned is a manuscript known as Memoria de las obras y libros de don Hernando Colón.4 Compiled by Juan Pérez, Colón's last librarian, this document describes the thirteen repertorios, or indexes, that Colón maintained as he expanded his collection over the first four decades of the sixteenth century. Although only about one-third of Colón's books and manuscripts remain together as a discrete library collection, known as the Biblioteca Colombina and housed in the Cathedral of Seville since the middle of the sixteenth century, many of the repertorios have survived. This bibliographic corpus can be divided into three groups. The first group is a series of registros, which enumerate books in the order that Colón and his far-flung network of buyers either bought or first inventoried them. Included in this set of indexes is the Memorial de los libros naufragados, or "Memorandum of shipwrecked books," an inventory of a shipment of approximately 1,700 books lost on the sea voyage to Seville from Venice, where in 1521 Colón had gathered almost a year's worth of...


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