Ferdinand Magellan

Date: 1520
Owner: Granger Collection, The
Source Type: Images


Ferdinand Magellan (1480-1521), a Portuguese navigator, led the Spanish expeditionary fleet that was the first to circumnavigate the planet. Although he was killed by Pacific Islanders in the midst of the voyage, he is remembered as the first captain to prove that the earth was round and that, by oceanic navigation with advanced ships and instruments, its entirety could be explored.

This image, from 1585, depicts Magellan as what Jorge Canizares-Esguerra calls a knight cosmographer, warrior-scholars who embodied the Iberian approach to knowledge gathering in the age of discovery. In pursuit of universal monarchy, the aggressive acquisition of information became a chivalric pursuit, a decidedly masculine affair in which baroque values fused with the practical (often scientific) affairs of building an empire. Thus Magellan is shown in full body armor while carrying navigational instruments (compass and armillary sphere) and a sword. The fact that he is guided by Apollo and besieged by a variety of mythical beasts makes it clear that voyages of discovery were understood as quests, no less fantastic and noble than those of bygone knights like El Cid. This violent and idealistic manner of understanding the pursuit of knowledge proved very influential to northern European explorers in the seventeenth century, most notably captain John Smith.

Reference: Canizares-Esguerra, Jorge. "Chivalric Epistemology and Patriotic Narratives: Iberian Colonial Science." In Nature, Empire, and Nation: Explorations of the History of Science in the Iberian World. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2006.

CITATION: "Ferdinand Magellan." 1585. The Granger Collection, New York. 0009480.