Date: 1594
Owner: Granger Collection, The
Source Type: Images


This 1594 engraving shows ships departing for the Americas from the port of Sanlucar de Barrameda, the main harbor in Seville, Spain. Apart from being the major port that connected Spain to its vast overseas empire, Seville was also the hub of scientific learning that made voyages to the New World (and its exploitation) a reality. The most important center of learning in Seville (and, perhaps, all of Europe) during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was the Casa de Contratacion, an institution created in 1503 to collate information about the New World and to teach modern navigational methods.

The Casa served as an institution for centralizing, standardizing, and improving all aspects of science that were necessary to conquering, understanding, and exploiting the New World. Supported by royal patronage, it employed a chief pilot (to lecture on navigation and to compile empirically drawn maps), a ship inspector, a chief cosmographer, and several mapmakers and instrument designers. To ensure standardization among all of Spain's pilots, the Casa was the only licensed manufacturer of navigational devices and compiled the empire's authoritative navigational chart, the Padron Real. According to historian Antonio Barrera-Osorio, the Casa de Contratacion was most important because it was an institution that supported and encouraged empirical observation, and thus gave credibility to hands-on knowledge gathering that had previously been reserved for textual scholarship. Seville, the lynchpin of the Spanish Empire, can also be considered the nursery of the West's scientific revolution.

Reference: Barrera-Osorio, Antonio. Experiencing Nature: The Spanish American Empire and the Early Scientific Revolution. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2006.

CITATION: De Bry, Theodore. "Seville: Departure." 1594. The Granger Collection, New York. 0010550.