New Atlantis: A Venetian Vision of the Americas

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Bonar, Jamie
Early Modern Venice , Atlantic World , Intellectual History , Colonialism
While few Venetians traveled to the Americas in the sixteenth century, a plethora of writers, cartographers, and cosmographers vicariously participated in its conquest. Attributing Iberian achievements in the Age of Exploration to the exploits of their illustrious Republic, these authors routinely saw reflections of themselves within their visions of the New World. At various times, they regarded Venice and Tenochtitlan as replicas of each other, valorized Columbus’ voyage in Venetian terms, and likened indigenous Americans to the earliest inhabitants of their city. Apparent in a variety of maps, texts, and images, these approaches reveal how the Republic’s learned elite pursued a policy of commensurability when representing the relationship between the Old World and the New. Mediated through the myth of Atlantis, this rhetorical strategy ensured Venice’s relevance in an age of Atlantic empires. At a time when scholars were scouring the classics to comprehend the New World, it is not surprising that several of them identified the Americas as Atlantis. For Francisco López de Gómara and Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa, the story of a long-lost land bridge secured Spanish claims to the recently discovered continent. For Venetian humanists, however, the myth revealed far more about the structure and nature of the world. Evincing Plato’s theory of harmonia mundi, Atlantis reaffirmed the reciprocal relationship that seemingly existed between Venice and its Aztec counterpart. Evident in the works of Girolamo Fracastoro and Giovanni Battista Ramusio, the equation of New/Old World places and peoples enabled Venetians to ponder the colonial potential of the Americas.
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