Andrea Corsali’s Southern Cross
While not the first European to view the Southern Cross, Andrea Corsali was the first to describe its distinctive shape—‘this crosse is so fayre and bewtiful’—effectively naming it. French astronomer, Royer, officially named the constellation ‘Crux’ in 1679.
Corsali’s Lettera was written in 1515, published in 1516 and translated into English by Richard Eden in 1555. This manuscript is the finer of only two extant 16th-century manuscript versions of the rare book. It is written on vellum, a durable writing material made from animal skin (often calfskin).
Corsali, a Florentine in the service of Giuliano de Medici, a member of the influential Florentine family, wrote the letter during a Portuguese voyage to the Indian Ocean via southern Africa.
It is unclear why he was aboard a Portuguese vessel, but he may have been collecting strategic commercial intelligence for the Medici, whose financial influence may have explained his presence.
The manuscript was made, possibly in secret, by a Venetian scribe for Andrea Gritti, a leading citizen of Venice, a rival state of Florence. Gritti would have been greatly interested in the voyage and the involvement of the Medici.