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Cosmopolitismes en Asie du Sud

Corinne Lefèvre
Ines G. Županov
Jorge Flores

Sources/ressources // Sources/resources

Renaissance Italy meets South Asia. Florentines and Venetians in a Cosmopolitan World

La Renaissance italienne à l’heure indienne. Florentins et Vénitiens dans un monde cosmopolite

Giuseppe Marcocci


On considère habituellement la Renaissance comme l’âge de la redécouverte et de la réélaboration de la notion de cosmopolite, laquelle dérive de l’antiquité classique. L’historiographie récente a montré que cette réinterprétation n’a pas réussi à dépasser les limites de l’européocentrisme. Par ailleurs, des spécialistes ont souligné que l’Asie du Sud de la première modernité était un monde cosmopolite, dont les habitants auraient été capables de se mesurer à une grande variété de langues, coutumes et croyances, tout en respectant les différentes pratiques religieuses, sociales et culturelles de leurs voisins.

Cet essai analyse ce qu’on pourrait appeler une « réaction cosmopolite européenne » à différentes sociétés cosmopolites, de la Perse à Malacca, au cours du xvie siècle. En se concentrant sur une sélection de textes produits par des voyageurs partis de Florence et de Venise, deux des villes les plus représentatives de l’Italie de la Renaissance, on essaie de répondre à des demandes de ce type: que se passait-il quand les Européens de la Renaissance rencontraient et interagissaient avec le monde cosmopolite de l’Asie du Sud? Peut-on faire une histoire connectée des comportements cosmopolites dans l’Eurasie de la première modernité?

Note de l’éditeur

This study was supported by funding from the Italian MIUR/FIRB research project RBFR08UX26 titled “Beyond the Holy War: Managing Conflicts and Crossing Cultural Borders between Christendom and Islam from the Mediterranean to the extra-European World: Mediation, Transfer, Conversion, 15th-19th Century,” of which I am the principal investigator.

Texte intégral

1Cosmopolitanism is a fundamental aspect of our world, even though it is far from being the foundation of contemporary global interactions. Many scholars, in particular sociologists, philosophers and political scientists, stress that today’s cosmopolitan attitudes radically differ from those of the past. According to this view, in the past, cosmopolitanism reflected a narrower view of reality due to a compromise with a typically European idea of universalism, which embodied a sense of superiority and the claim to impose values, beliefs and lifestyle on other populations. Perhaps less optimistic, it is my feeling, however, that contemporary cosmopolitanism is still indebted to the long history of this notion (Papastephanou 2012). Nor should we confuse the post-modern loss of hierarchy, constant mobility or the inclination to mistake experience for knowledge, with the concept of being a “citizen of the world.” If cosmopolitanism is defined as the ability of a people, whatever their origin, to respect every culture and to feel at home in any place and society, nevertheless, western cosmopolitans will be regarded as more cosmopolitan than others as long as globalization is synonymous with westernization.

  • 1 There is a huge literature on the topic. A useful introduction for our purposes is Vertovec & Cohen(...)

2In the last two decades, cosmopolitanism has become a central issue in social sciences. But, again, the renewed interest in this subject has predominantly emerged among western scholars. There are clear links between this field of research and the current debate about globalization, including related themes such as the end of the nation-state, world trade, migration, diaspora, and multiculturalism.1 The abundance of material has not escaped historians, who could contribute decisively to better understanding the shifting definition of what is cosmopolitan over time. Above all, they could contribute to breaking with the general tendency to confine research on the topic to the western world or even to very specific historical moments, such as Classical Antiquity or the Enlightenment.

  • 2 See Ganim & Legassie, eds., 2013. In particular, I refer to Mallette: 21-38, and Chism: 59-78.

3One possible way to escape conventional accounts is to search for cosmopolitan thoughts, literature and activity in societies where a strict notion of cosmopolitanism was not present or not clearly evident. A recent study has explored the contribution of the Middle Ages to cosmopolitan ethics and politics, encompassing non-European regions and individuals, from Baghdad and its multilingualism to the travel literature of Ibn Battuta.2 A still more interesting volume has investigated the role of cosmopolitanism in the Islamic world, using an historical approach. Its essays focus on a rich variety of contexts, mainly set in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, drawing attention to this age as the period in world history when cosmopolitanism pervaded Muslim societies (Maclean & Ahmed 2012). Roughly the same time frame is analysed in another book dedicated to South Asian intellectual history and the transnational circulation of ideas (Bose & Manjapra 2010).

  • 3 For a partially similar approach see the chapter by Jos Gommans in this volume, which examines the (...)
  • 4 See, for instance, Jardine & Brotton 2000; Singh, ed., 2009; Gruzinski 2012; Goody 2010.

4My approach is slightly different. I choose to reverse the perspective by analysing the question of how, and to what extent, the effect of South Asian cosmopolitan world on the Renaissance contributed to the rediscovery and reshaping of old cosmopolitan ideas in Europe.3 In so doing, this article is partly influenced by the current debate over the concept of “global Renaissance” and its project to restore the many connections that a cultural movement seen as quintessentially European, had with other parts of the world.4 I aim to contribute to this debate by stressing the importance of experience and intellectual reaction to direct interaction, alongside the history of objects and material culture to which recent historiography has paid more attention (Ajmar-Wollheim & Molà 2011). In particular my focus will be on a selection of texts written by Florentines and Venitians, all with commercial interests. This choice reflects a particular attention to the role of the Italians in early modern global relations. I take seriously the words of the Florentine historian Francesco Guicciardini (1483-1540) when he writes that overseas empires and commerce had “some connection with Italian affairs” (Guicciardini 1969, 177 [bk.6, ch.9]). My approach also stems from a disagreement with historians such as Margaret C. Jacob, who in her recent book sees the rise of European cosmopolitanism as an independent process or at most only partially influenced by the discussion about the New World (Jacob 2006). I believe that an accurate understanding of the idea and practice of cosmopolitanism in the early modern period may only derive from a cross-cultural study, which considers the concept of cosmopolitan as the viable product of interactions, transfers and exchanges on a wide scale. There may not be a single definition of what cosmopolitanism means today, but undoubtedly a simultaneity of cosmopolitan attitudes across time and space, influencing each other, distinguished the world of the past.

  • 5 A recent volume about the application of the myth of Alexander to early modern Iberian expansion in (...)
  • 6 The argument that classical cosmopolitanism, that is from the antiquity to the Enlightenment, was “ (...)

5The relationship between East and West is a main issue here. It is important to remember that close ties existed between the Stoic philosopher Diogenes the Cynic—commonly reported as answering “I am a citizen of the world” (kosmopolités) when asked where he came from—and Alexander the Great, who bequeathed not only the imperial dream of political unification but also a legacy of common cultural references and legends to Eurasia.5 Although, on the whole, an ethnocentric frame heavily characterized pre-modern western cosmopolitan attitudes, remarkable expressions of cosmopolitan thinking emerged among European intellectual minorities that had direct contact with the East.6

  • 7 “[…] pour la paix universelle, duquel je me nomme Cosmopolite, desirant la voir accordée, sous la C (...)

6This fact is particularly evident if one analyses the Italian Renaissance in relation to South Asia. On the one hand, it is well known that a few Italian humanists played a major role in the recovery of the ancient Stoic concept of the “citizen of the world.” Its origins are to be found in Dante Alighieri’s De vulgari eloquentia (c. 1305) where the author includes himself among those “to whom the world is [their] native country” (Alighieri 1890: 11). On the other hand, the first to revert to the literal use of the term “cosmopolitan” (cosmopolite)—meaning a man who desires universal peace—was the French humanist Guillaume Postel (1510-1581) in a work published in 1560 where he significantly acknowledges the full dignity of the Muslims. The previous year he had escaped sentence by the Inquisition of Venice, the city where he had lived after his travels in the Levant, which were of the greatest importance in his elaboration of the concept of “harmony of the world” (concordia mundi).7

  • 8 See the influential essay by Koselleck 1985, esp.: 159-197.

7The evident link between the first attestation of the word “cosmopolitan” in a Romance language and the East is revealing. However, although the history of words is relevant, I do not adhere here to Reinhart Koselleck’s approach, which emphasizes the chronology and the political and social context of the first emergence of a concept in a language,8 nor choose to explore the complex elaboration of Postel’s universal religion as being opposed to the Christian universalism that the inquisitors of Venice shared with openminded humanists such as Thomas More and Erasmus of Rotterdam. In fact, these latter were representative of a Renaissance cosmopolitan aspiration unable to cross the cultural borders of Europe: the “imagined community” of the Republic of Letters (Scuccimarra 2006: 172-187).

  • 9 on these figures see the classic introduction by Lach & Van Kley 1965-1993, vol. 1/1: 468-477.

8On the contrary, I will stress the importance of certain diplomats and merchants from Florence and Venice, who spent time in the huge and diversified region they called the “East Indies,” writing influential accounts that drew on information and opinions originating from travels across a disparate set of cultures and societies from Persia to Malacca.9

French Prologue

  • 10 About this topic see McCabe 2008. For a later period see Dew 2009.
  • 11 I quote from Bodin 1945: 301.

9Before considering the case of some Renaissance Italians, the reference to Postel suggests a small digression on French orientalism.10 The Age of Exploration (1450-1700) witnessed a global turn in human relationship with space, encouraging long-distance mobility, trade and geographical knowledge. Despite the presence of many other Europeans in sixteenth-century South Asia, most of all Portuguese, it is my hypothesis that the experience of the Florentine and Venetian merchants, whose texts will be later examined in this chapter, provided the background for explicit cosmopolitan claims such as that made by the French jurist and thinker Jean Bodin (1530-1596). Unlike the ancients, who “lived entirely within the Mediterranean basin”—he wrote in his Methodus ad facilem historiarum cognitionem (1566)—modern navigators reached “another world, as I might say, in order to open up the farthest recesses of India. Not only has this discovery developed an abundant and profitable commerce (which formerly was insignificant or not well known) but also all men surprisingly work together in a world state, as if one and the same city-state.”11

  • 12 I translate from the modern critical edition, see Belon du Mans [1553] 2001: 108.

10The rise of cosmopolitan thinking on a global scale is explained by Bodin as the direct result of the communication stimulated by travel, commerce and cultural exchanges. Although less developed, this idea was also present in the report by the French diplomat Pierre Belon (1517-1564) on his travels in the Levant between 1546 and 1549. A chorographic and naturalistic encyclopaedia of the Middle East, with rich descriptions of plants, animals, minerals and wares, as other similar works by roughly contemporary authors such as the Portuguese Garcia de Orta (c. 1501-1568) and Cristóvão da Costa (1515- 1594), or the Castilian Francisco Hernández (1514-1587), Les observations […] de plusieurs singularitéz et choses memorables (1553) reflected the cosmopolitan inclination of its learned author. But in a passage not without a certain vanity, Belon comes to the point to honour the “trade of merchandise, to which we owe all the extraordinary things we possess from distant parts of the world.” He goes on to present himself as the first to introduce and trade in goods such as nitrate cardamom and turpentine throughout the Mediterranean. “When I was in the Levant I showed a great number [of goods] to merchants, which being unknown to them remained there, and now these goods start being commonly on sale in Venice and in many other places.”12

  • 13 “Discorso del Ramusio sul commercio delle spezie,” in Giovanni Battista Ramusio, Navigazioni e viag (...)
  • 14 Clearly depending on the humanistic construct of the Middle Ages, Ramusio’s scheme may induce us to (...)

11The need to claim commercial expertise by a humanist like Belon reveals the growing interest of the Renaissance culture in trade as a means to better comprehend the East. The explicit reference to Venice may be a hidden allusion to Navigationi et Viaggi, a collection of travel, geographical and historiographical literature, edited by the Venetian humanist Giovanni Battista Ramusio (1485-1557) whose engagement in overseas commerce is well known (Donattini 1980). Belon could have read Ramusio’s Discourse on the spice trade which was included in the first volume of Navigationi (1550). Indeed, Belon’s praise of commerce and, to an even greater extent, Bodin’s theory of a new global cosmopolitan attitude seem to be affected by Ramusio’s crucial passage on the turning point represented by “the great change and alteration provoked by the Gothic invasion throughout the Roman empire […] before the arrival of the Barbarians, when the Roman empire was flourishing, it was possible to navigate safely across the seas of all the East Indies.”13 To apply this typically humanistic periodization to travel and trade across South Asia shows to what extent the Renaissance reflected on the intensity of Eurasian interactions.14

  • 15 Not all French authors, of course. A recent essay by John Usher has shown how several Renaissance n (...)

12If a few Italian humanists interpreted the contacts and exchanges with South Asia according to the Renaissance paradigm, it was the French authors who, by writing of the positive relations between their kingdom and the Ottoman empire, completed the intellectual connection to the incipient and still vague ideal of cosmopolitanism.15 It is no coincidence that another probable source of Bodin, the Cosmographie du Levant (1554) by the Franciscan friar André Thevet (1502-1590), opens with a sentence about mobility and global thinking: “peregrination brings us wisdom and provides us with a common feeling (sens commun)” (Thevet 1985: 14). A few years later, the Portuguese Fernão Mendes Pinto (c. 1509/14-1583) elaborated on this argument in his Peregrinaçam (1614), an account in which he combined truth and fiction about his travels in South and East Asia in the mid-sixteenth century (Pinto 1992).

Fig. 1. Portrait de Guillaume Postel in André Thevet, Les vrais portraits et vies des hommes illustres grecz, latins et payens (1584).

Fig. 1. Portrait de Guillaume Postel in André Thevet, Les vrais portraits et vies des hommes illustres grecz, latins et payens (1584).

13This cannot yet be considered a coherent and well-framed cosmopolitan theory, which in early modern Europe was the outcome of a slow and non-linear elaboration. However, French humanists like Belon, Thevet, Postel and Bodin must be considered part of its cultural roots if we are to agree with Margaret Jacob’s definition of what it was to be a cosmopolitan in Europe in the early modern period: “the ability to experience people of different nations, creed and colours with pleasure, curiosity and interest, and not with suspicion, disdain, or simply a disinterest that could occasionally turn into loathing” (Jacob 2006: 1).

Tales and Trade: The “Desire of the Indies”

14A distinctive contribution to the early modern reshaping of the western notion of cosmopolitan consists in the literary sources about the Middle East and South Asia. Here the central role of trade is evident. And for this reason I am not convinced that the history of ideas alone is sufficient to penetrate the porous sphere of cosmopolitan thinking, attitudes and life styles. Indeed, one should also take into account the practical nature of cosmopolitanism. The point here is that French evidence of openly cosmopolitan attitudes and statements would not have been possible without the simultaneous development of a travel literature by Italian diplomats and, more importantly, merchants. They experienced Asian culture and societies and made the link between trade and a new relationship with the world, which, even if not explicitly, was slowly developing towards a cosmopolitan dimension.

  • 16 I refer to Subrahmanyam 2011 and Trivellato 2009. See also Trivellato, Halevi & Antunes, eds., 2014

15Sanjay Subrahmanyam and Francesca Trivellato have recently explored the activities of European travellers and merchants in South Asia, both individuals and religious and cultural minorities, as a promising source to better understand how they lived as “alien” in a variety of societies or how they managed long-distance trade while preserving group boundaries, thanks to the establishment of cross-cultural networks among “strangers,” which at times proved to be more effective in order to sustain trust and credit than blood ties and religious or cultural propinquity.16 Facing troubles and travails, they entered a world where the inhabitants—unlike in Europe—were used to confronting a cosmopolitan multiplicity of vernacular languages, customs and creeds while retaining a respect for the different social, cultural and religious practices (Pollock 2006; Gupta 2008). In leaving their city to explore the world, thus turning urban culture into global knowledge, some Renaissance Italians gradually abandoned the legendary image of the East as the land of wonders and myths that the ancient and medieval authors, including the Venetian Marco Polo, had conveyed to Europe. Nevertheless, the importance of tales and short-story tradition should not be dismissed in a study of the shaping of the “desire of the Indies,” the alleged motivation of many Europeans travelling to early modern South Asia.

16Despite what has been termed a “humanist myopia” in relation to cosmopolitanism, that is the choice to ignore the inclination of human beings towards indifference and violence in their relationships with others, as well as the crucial role of political institutions and technology in organizing forms of exploitation and subjugation (Kunneman & Suransky 2011), a minority of diplomats and merchants from Renaissance Florence and Venice took the first steps from cosmography to cosmopolitan attitudes in Europe. These men shared a “cosmopolitan reaction” to the South Asian cosmopolitan world. Their accounts reveal a shift from a merely geographic and ethnographic description to a respect and admiration for the South Asian people, their culture and, more rarely, the concept of a worldwide city where all citizens share a common sentiment. Tales and trade were critical starting points of this historical process.

17Two major centres of printing and post-Ptolemaic geography in the mid-sixteenth century Italy, Florence and Venice, had well-established contacts with the East. Long-standing commercial and diplomatic relations as well as a tradition of art collecting (due in part to curiosity and encyclopaedism) attest to this. In the first half of the fifteenth century, Damascus ceramists crafted pottery according to Florentine taste, as seen in the insertion of decorative elements such as the blue lily, symbol of Florence (Spallanzani 1978: 70-72). This interest was enhanced by the oriental tales or anecdotes based on eastern themes, which circulated during the sixteenth century.

  • 17 Peregrinaggio di tre giovani figliuoli del re di Serendippo (1557), proemio. The classic study on t (...)
  • 18 Peregrinaggio, proemio. For an introduction to the cosmopolitan and trans-imperial contours of earl (...)

18Published in Venice in 1557, the anthology of short stories entitled Peregrinaggio di tre giovani figliuoli del re di Serendippo—a famous source of inspiration to Horace Walpole for the concept of “serendipity” in the mid-eighteenth century—provided Italian readers (and, later, the European audience who did not read italian, thanks to several translations) with a set of oriental tales of ancient origin taken from various sources, many Indian, that were current in the Persian world. (In fact, Serendip was the ancient Persian name for Sri Lanka). This anthology was translated from Persian to Italian and plausibly adapted from the version of Amir Khusrau of Delhi (1253-1325) by Christopher the Armenian, a Christian native of Tabriz who most likely arrived in Europe in the mid-sixteenth century, driven by the desire to visit the “land of the Franks.”17 The volume was first printed by Michele Tramezzino and enjoyed great popularity. Despite Christopher’s claim that the city of Venice, “without comparison in the entire world,” was by far superior to Persian cities, in a period of anti-Ottoman alliance between Safavid Persia and the Republic of Venice, this anthology promoted the circulation and knowledge of Persian cosmopolitan thinking and trans-imperial literature in Italy.18 In the case of Florence, it suffices to recall the strong presence of eastern modes, figures and stories in the works of Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375), Francesco Sacchetti (1332-1400) and generally in late medieval fairy tales, which were part of the cultural background of early modern Florentines in South Asia.

Fig. 2. Christopher the Armenian, Peregrinaggio di tre giovani figliuoli del re di Serendippo (Venice, Michele Tramezzino, 1557), frontispiece.

Fig. 2. Christopher the Armenian, Peregrinaggio di tre giovani figliuoli del re di Serendippo (Venice, Michele Tramezzino, 1557), frontispiece.

19Tales helped to stimulate interest and curiosity in the East Indies in Renaissance Italy. In the same period, literature on trading and commerce began to be considered a vital tool to understand the oriental world and how it functioned. A new sense of gratitude developed towards the merchant class because their accounts in italian were providing readers with the (false) idea of a direct knowledge of Asia. This literature provided the basis for Jean Bodin’s understanding of the significance of Eurasian trade as a form of long-distance interaction, which encouraged global cosmopolitan thinking.

20A similar opinion was clearly shared by the Venetian Antonio Manuzio (1511-c. 1559), son of the famous printer and publisher Aldo. In 1543, Antonio published a collection of travel accounts by various authors, including Giosafat Barbaro (1413-1494), Ambrogio Contarini (1429-1499) and Alvise Roncinotto (first half of the sixteenth century), entitled Viaggi fatti da Venetia alla Tana, in Persia, in India ed in Costantinopoli (which Ramusio later included in the second volume of his Navigationi in 1559). This collection is dedicated to the Venetian patrician Antonio Barbarigo, who took part in the Ottoman siege of the Portuguese in Diu in 1538, where he was captured and held prisoner by the Turks from 1538 to 1541, as narrated in an anonymous report in the anthology. Manuzio’s dedication opens with: “Today the world should be greatly obliged to the industrious merchants […], for every day further knowledge is acquired about many places and countries, thanks to their peregrination.” He continues by stating: “of all modern men, Venetian noblemen are those who first and in the clearest manner were good for the world in this endeavour.” As with the Renaissance humanists, their valiant accounts from Asia helped to restore ancient knowledge and familiarity with parts of the world that “had turned foreign and unknown, and seemed entirely new to modern people, in the variety of the states, the diversity of the religions and the novelty of the barbarous names.” Therefore, Manuzio concludes, these writings served more for “the universal good of the people than for their personal advantage” (Viaggi fatti da Venetia alla Tana, 1543: 2r-v).

21Of the various accounts that would reflect this spirit, there are two reports by the Venetian Alvise Roncinotto, a merchant who travelled twice to South Asia. on the first trip in 1529, Roncinotto expresses his “burning desire to see with my own eyes what I had heard of this travel” ( “viaggio di Colocut” in Viaggi fatti da Venetia alla Tana, 1543: 108r); later in 1532, he sailed from Lisbon in the company of Christopher Columbus’ nephew, Andrea. Roncinotto reached India by land in 1529, travelling across Arabia and Persia together with a Muslim trader from Alexandria, whereas three years later he circumnavigated Africa and disembarked in Calicut, then continued on to Sri Lanka and Sumatra. It is noteworthy that in the same period when the Turks were seen as a deadly threat to the eastern Mediterranean, this Venetian merchant, who had spent part of his life under the rule of the Ottoman empire, expresses enthusiasm for the “beautiful cities” he encountered in the Middle East and South Asia. Moreover, he shows no disdain for the Muslims. He actually describes Sumatra, identified with the legendary Taprobana, whose inhabitants are said to live very prosperously to the age of 150, as an ideal island, “extremely filled with everything and especially gold and jewels […] its climate is the most perfect” (“Il secundo viaggio,” in Viaggi fatti da Venetia alla Tana, 1543: 120r).

  • 19 About him, see Membré 1993. See also Arbel 2013: 253-281.

22It is likely that the state of living in a foreign land coupled with good linguistic skills, which made Roncinotto an efficient cultural broker, helped to cultivate his respect for the cosmopolitan world that surrounded him. This was still truer for those like the diplomat Michele Membré (c. 1509-1594) who crossed the borders between conflicting powers such as the ottoman empire and Safavid Persia. In 1542, this Venetian ambassador presented to the Senate a detailed report of his mission to the court of Shah Tahmasp I in Persia in 1539-1540. A native of Cyprus, proficient in Arabic, Turkish and Persian, Membré, who later became an official translator for venetian correspondence in oriental languages serving as dragoman, was received at the itinerant Safavid court—which Roncinotto portrays in cosmopolitan terms as hosting emissaries from all over the world—by wearing Turkish and Persian dress and posing as a merchant. His mission was completed when he touched the coast of the Indian ocean.19 Clearly, mimicry and disguise were important tools for these men travelling around Asia, as the Itinerario by Ludovico de varthema had first demonstrated at the beginning of the century (varthema 1863). Neither Membré nor Roncinotto made explicit cosmopolitan statements, however, their writings reveal power of observation, ability to integrate an appreciation of cultural and religious coexistence, particularly when describing the cities, “the natural habitat of the cosmopolitan” (Jacob 2011: 13). They thus provided Renaissance Italy and Europe with an abundance of knowledge about the cosmopolitan galaxy of South Asia.

Italian Guides to a Cosmopolitan Galaxy: Commercial Handbooks for Renaissance Travellers in South Asia

  • 20 I quote from the English translation by Županov 2010: 24.

23In 1563 the Portuguese New Christian Garcia de Orta wrote in his Colóquios dos simples e drogas he cousas medicinais da India, published in Goa, where he had been living since 1538: “the Portuguese who sail to many parts of the world, wherever they go, they do not look for knowledge but only how to dispose of their merchandise […]. They are not curious to learn about things that exist in those countries.”20 The contradiction between cultural interest and commerce denounced by Orta was not characteristic of all Europeans. One might even question whether the increasing presence of Iberian powers in early modern South Asia, actually heightened the cosmopolitan sensibility of some Florentine and Venetians as a counter-reaction. Unlike the Portuguese and the Spaniards, and later on the Dutch, the English and the French, these men did not arrive as direct subjects of overseas empires, a factor which they usually considered favourable to seeking out more trading opportunities. Perhaps, this condition also facilitated the crossing of political and cultural borders and allowed them more independence in their writings.

  • 21 Spallanzani (1997) provides a list of Florentine merchants in Portuguese Asia in the first quarter (...)

24If the fairy-tale tradition contributed to stimulating the desire to travel, trade and experience induced changes in the understanding of South Asia. As in the writings of Portuguese authors like Tomé Pires (c. 1465-1523/4 or c. 1540) or Duarte Barbosa (c. 1480-c. 1546), who composed two fundamental treatises on the East in the 1510s, we do not find any significant cosmopolitan ardour relating to oriental society and culture in the accounts of the Italian diplomats and commercial agents living in South Asia between the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century.21 However, sources from the second half of the sixteenth century confirm the emergence of an embryonic cosmopolitan reaction in their personal experience and contacts with South Asia. This is particularly evident in the specific literary genre of the commercial handbooks produced by the Venetian merchants. These were a sort of guide to the South Asian cosmopolitan world, providing practical information about cities, routes, markets, currencies, exchanges, duties, weights of measurement, merchandise, as well as a brief description of the inhabitants, including their customs, religion, and their political and social organization.

25A case in point is the book entitled Viaggio […] nelle Indie orientali by Cesare Federici (1521-1601), a native of Val Camonica and subject of the Republic of Venice, who left Italy in 1563 and spent eighteen years travelling throughout the Middle East and South Asia as a dealer in jewels. During his journeys through India, Burma and Malacca, he engaged in long-distance commerce by speculating in the trading of glass, cotton, lacquer, opium, pepper, sandalwood, Chinese porcelain, rubies, diamonds and other precious stones. He travelled back and forth to South Asia by land, crossing the Arabian Peninsula. After his return to Venice in 1581, he continued to be active as a powerful jeweller in a complex trading network of precious stones between Europe and Asia. The memoirs of his journeys around South Asia were published in 1587 in Venice to serve as a handbook for merchants (Federici 1587). The increasing interest in this type of literature is confirmed by the prompt translation of Federici’s book into English by Thomas Hickock, printed in London in 1588.

  • 22 On Jesuit missionaries see Roscioni 2001.

26In his epistle to the reader Federici proudly claims that he has “seen and understood many things worthy the noting and to bee knowne to all the world: the which were never as yet written of any” (Federici 1588, A 3r.). He presents his travels as the result of being “very desirous to see the Easte partes of the worlde,” by then a commonplace in European culture (ibid.: 1r.). At that time, however, the secular desire of the Indies by the merchants, and the proselytizing desire of the the Jesuit missionnaries were becoming more and more divergent.22

27Crossing South Asia, Federici records with enthusiasm the “marvellous and great trade of all kind of merchandize, which commeth from divers parts” (Frederici 1588, 18v [Malacca]). He pays special attention to the cities he visits. He praises Hormuz for the notable presence of “merchants of every nation” and describes Ahmedabad with admiration as “a verye great citty and very populous […] with faire houses and large streets, with a faire place in it with many shops” (ibid.: 3 v [Hormuz] and 4v [Ahmedabad]).

28The ideal society in the eyes of Federici, after closely observing the organization of trade and the cosmopolitan variety of merchandise available in South Asia, as he addresses now the Italian readers (presumably merchants) and now the world as a whole, is a society in which trade topples the political and religious boundaries and allows a beneficial coexistence among different peoples. This happened in Odisha (Orissa), in the Bengal Bay, “a faire kingdome, and trustye, through the which a man might have gone with golde in his hand without any danger at all, as long as the lawfull king reined who was a gentile.” Federici visited Cuttack, its capital, in 1567, during the troubled political period of the Mughal expansion in the region. His historical reconstruction is somewhat imprecise in chronology as regards the Pathan invasion of the kingdom, which brought with it the imposition of heavy trade duties. The new ruler, who may be identified as Sulaiman Khan Karrani and is labelled a “tirant,” was later subjugated by “another tirant which was the greate Magoll.” In contrast, the “lawfull king” to whom Federici refers—possibly Mukunda Deva (1559-1568), the last Hindu sovereign of Odisha—who “loved strangers marvellous well, and merchants which came in and out in his kingdome, in such wise, that he would take no custome of them, neither any other greevous thing” (ibid.: fol. 22r.).

29Clearly, here tyranny is equated with the control of trade. These are the first signals of an aspiration to a merchant cosmopolis, which may also echo the humanistic myth of the perfect harmony of Indian society. However, this aspiration is reinforced by the voice of those Europeans trading in South Asia who favoured duty-free commerce as a sign of respect for the rights of world citizenship. This same attitude was shared by another Venetian jeweller, who spent many years between Portuguese India, mainly in Goa (1580- 1582), and the Taungoo kingdom in Burma (1583-1586). Like Federici, Gasparo Balbi journeyed to South Asia by land. He left Aleppo in 1579 and returned to Venice in 1589, ten years later. In 1590, he published his Viaggio dell’Indie orientali, partly derived from Federici’s volume. Balbi explicitly speaks of the tradition of Venetian authors, “who acted with their writings for the good and benefit of the world,” which he claims to be a part of (Balbi 1590, fol. a 2v). In his trading guide to South Asia, Balbi warns about the dangers of travel and trade but also conveys the attitude of a merchant koiné, a cosmopolis of goods, wonders of technology and dealers with different customs and religions.

Fig. 3. Gasparo Balbi, Viaggio dell’Indie orientali (Venice, Camillo Borgominieri, 1590), frontispiece.

Fig. 3. Gasparo Balbi, Viaggio dell’Indie orientali (Venice, Camillo Borgominieri, 1590), frontispiece.

30This is particularly evident in Balbi’s description of Bago (Pegu), capital of the Toungoo empire, which was divided into two cities, “the old and the new; the first accommodates foreigners and merchants, many of whom reside here and do a very good business, while the king and his noblemen (baroni) and gentlemen live in the other” (ibid.: 100r-v). He also reports his extraordinary encounter with King Nanda Bayin (1581-1599), to whom he brought emeralds from Mylapore. During a royal audience,

both the interpreter and I kneeled down and, raising our imploring hands, we made a sign to kiss the ground three times before getting up; and we repeated it three times before arriving next to a staircase where the king was sitting with his shemins [high dignitaries] bowed down, where is said that never a Christian was so close to the king, nor other Muslim captains except his shemins.

After describing the ritual to gain access to the king in his sumptuous palace, Balbi tells of the interrogation Nanda Bayin subjected him to and his deceptive answers:

[I was asked] where I was from, how long ago I had left my native land, what my name was and from where I had brought emeralds. With the usual bows that must be performed at every word, I answered that my name was Gasparo Balbi, that I had been traveling for four years and that I brought emeralds from Venice with the purpose to give them to his Majesty, who is known as a good and courteous and great man all around the world and especially in our parts as the most powerful king of the world […] Then he asked me where Venice was and I told him that it was in the kingdom of Italy, that it had a republican government and that no king ruled it; he was so astonished at hearing this that he started to laugh so hard that he began to cough and catarrh, and felt pain while speaking to his high officials. Finally, he asked me if the king who lately had taken possession of the Kingdom of Portugal was truly a great king and if the lords of Venice were powerful. I answered that King Philip, who had taken Portugal by force, was the most powerful king among the Christians and was an ally of the Venetians, who though they did not fear anyone, tried to be on friendly terms with all. (Ibid.: 102v-103 [on Akbar see 59r-v])

31After this broad and curious exchange of world geopolitics, which took place only a few years after the first Jesuit mission to the Mughal court (1580- 1583)—an event that clearly plays a role in Balbi’s narrative, where a fake story of Akbar’s conversion to Catholicism is reported—the Toungoo king gave his venetian guest a golden cup and five pieces of Chinese damask as a gift, while saying that he would ask his experts to appraise and pay for the emeralds. Moreover, he did not allow Balbi to pay any duty.

A “Wonderful Dinner”: From South Asia to the World

  • 23 Thevet 1575, vol. 1, a 3v. About Sassetti’s reading see his letter to Piero Vettori (27 January 158 (...)

32The arrival point of our travel between Renaissance Italy and South Asia is the Florentine Filippo Sassetti (1540-1588). A learned humanist and member of the Accademia degli Alterati, in 1578 he left his native country to journey to the Iberian peninsula. Five years later, he moved from Lisbon to West India, as an agent of the Milanese banker Giovan Battista Rovellasca, where he lived between Cochin (Kochi) and Goa from 1583 to 1588. A diachronic reading of the letters Sassetti wrote from Cochin to his relatives, friends and patrons in Tuscany, shows the change in attitude from stereotypes to respect for the cosmopolitan world where he was living (Milanesi 1973; Boutier 1994). In Lisbon he had happened to read a book by André Thevet, most likely his Cosmographie universelle (1575), in which he may have come upon the following passage: “the long experience of things and reliable direct observation of many countries and nations, the ensemble of their customs and life styles, lead mankind to perfection.”23 However, Sassetti did not immediately regard South Asia and its inhabitants according to Thevet’s vision.

  • 24 Letter to Francesco Valori (December 1583), ibid. 377. Two years later Sassetti criticised Baldassa (...)
  • 25 Quotations are from the letters to Baccio Valori (20 January 1584), to Francesco Valori (December 1 (...)

33His early letters abound in references to classical culture (Pliny the Elder, virgil and Herodotus) but also to Florentine fairy-tale tradition. The first surviving missive from India opens with a quotation from Galateo (1558) by Giovanni della Casa—a successful treatise on the rules and manners of polite behaviour in daily social life.24 The set of letters from Cochin between December 1583 and January 1584 shows blatantly that when Sassetti disembarked in India he was a Renaissance Italian with no cosmopolitan inclination whatsoever. Although he evokes the “sweetness of mutation,” he contemptuously portrays the houses of Cochin as “pigsties,” while in a letter to Cardinal Ferdinando de’ Medici—who was then setting up the Medici Oriental Press (1584)—Brahmins are represented as “very subtle people like the Jews, or even more so, abject as they are and with no spirit.”25 Such examples supported his opinion that Indian things had “little conformity with ours.”

  • 26 Letter to Piero Vettori (January 1584), ibid., 407.
  • 27 Letter to Baccio Valori (27 January 1585), ibid., 418.

34The first signs of doubt emerge in the letter dated January 1584 to his friend and fellow of the Accademia degli Alterati, the humanist Piero Vettori, editor of Della Casa’s writings: “I can tell Your Lordship little about this land, since in a few days one cannot see more than a small part of the little that the Portuguese possess.”26 Living in Goa for nearly a year, Sassetti developed a sense of humility towards Indian culture, and at the same time a critical attitude towards the Portuguese empire in Asia, whose structure he compares to the “crumbs (minuzzoli) remaining on the tablecloth after eating.”27 The letters he wrote between 1585 and the beginning of 1586 provide coherent material to illustrate the extent to which the experience of Konkan altered his perspective, opening his mind towards a cosmopolitan sensibility.

35Sassetti’s attitude towards Brahmins radically changes: he recalls Pliny the Elder’s reference to them and reports the common opinion that they are “the noblest, the best and the most intelligent of people,” reputing them “of the quickest wit” and “moderate.” He also stresses his inability to understand the “laws and customs” of the Indians of Goa, looking back nostalgically on the golden age of the city, which he had never experienced:

My learning of the manners of this people […] has been made difficult and almost impossible by the absolute power of the Portuguese on this island of Goa, from which the greater and better part of the Gentiles who lived here—they were many and very learned since this was a land of study—have left for other places. So, this island of Goa, which has a nice location, a large dimension, is full of beautiful things and rich, for trade here was greater than in any other land, is now reduced to little and is becoming worse. The reason for the flight of this people was the [Portuguese] intentions to convert them. So, after being forbidden to read their sciences and to make their sacrifices and worship, their temples were destroyed and they were prevented from going to the mainland (which they did) in order to perform their ceremonies, the best among them went to live in other places and the dregs remained and those who cared little about living in one way or another.

  • 28 Quotations are from the letters to Michele Saladini (December 1585), to Baccio Valori (27 January 1 (...)

36Sassetti extends his sense of regret to the Vijayanagara empire and its capital: “It had so much trade that one cannot imagine it […]; it consumed a great abundance of merchandise, coming from our parts across Alexandria and Syria […] and the way from this land [Goa] to that one was as crowded as the streets during the fair.” Its political and commercial decline was accelerated by the Mughal expansion, which Sassetti blames along with the Portuguese empire.28

  • 29 Quotations are from the letter to grand duke Francesco de’ Medici (11 February 1585) and those to B (...)

37His negative judgment about imperial systems, which were incapable of maintaining the delicate coexistence of ancient cultures and the demands of long-distance communication, goes along with a new understanding of science as a common ground for mankind. Thus, while discussing geography and botany with his Tuscan interlocutors in European terms, quoting ancient and modern authorities from Aristotle to Abraham Ortelius, Sassetti gathered local Indian plants and gained knowledge of Indian medicine, according to information from a “Gentile physician” in Goa. He was convinced that the general principles of natural science were the same in Europe and in India but there was a difference in the methodology. Clearly, this idea implied a careful experience of the new world he was discovering. This was made all the harder by the fact that “all around the world science is written in a different language than it is spoken” (Latin and Greek in Europe and Sanskrit in India) and also by the lack of Portuguese and mestizo interest in this field as well as the discretion of Indian doctors, “whose science is all empirical and they know it very well, but since they are extremely mean-spirited, they do not want to show anything.” With the aid of botanical treatises related to India by Garcia de Orta and Cristóvão da Costa, Sassetti cultivated a garden on his property in Goa with plants and herbs, whose effects he experimented on himself. By this particular way of going native, “with much expense and travail” he succeeded in “reproducing cinnamon so that the properties the ancients attributed it, with respect to its own qualities, are all recognizable.” Thus he confirmed his idea that Greek medicine and Ayurveda were commensurable.29

Fig. 4. Map of Portuguese Cochin, from the Livro das plantas das fortalezas, citades e provoações do Estado da India Oriental (first half of the 17th century), Museu Biblioteca da Casa de Bragança, Paço Ducal, Vila Viçosa (Portugal).

Fig. 4. Map of Portuguese Cochin, from the Livro das plantas das fortalezas, citades e provoações do Estado da India Oriental (first half of the 17th century), Museu Biblioteca da Casa de Bragança, Paço Ducal, Vila Viçosa (Portugal).

38If curiosity, an open mind and a personal experience of India allowed Sassetti to rediscover ancient wisdom, thanks to a new concept of knowledge as a cosmopolitan plenitude of scientific traditions, it was the close observation of reality which led him to the concept of a global conformity of business and economy. In a letter to Alessandro Ranuccini, another fellow of the Accademia degli Alterati, he relates that, through his interaction with merchants in India, he had understood that “it’s the same the whole world over and the ideas are common; however particular little differences cause often some pleasure.” The case in point was that of Indian bankers and usurers. The following passage is very revealing about Sassetti’s attitude after his two-year sojourn in India:

  • 30 Letter to Alessandro Ranuccini (6 February 1586), ibid., 511-513.

Now, like us, they have bankers. Some of them are very rich, while others just have enough pieces (basalucchi) as suffice to change a golden or silver coin, in order to keep their bank open […]. These bankers are called xaraffi, x being used in the Spanish way in place of s. By this you will recognize the name, since I don’t remember whether Boccaccio or the Novellino mentions the many saraffi that Saladin, I believe, gave to someone, as in ancient times the currency took the name from this term. And still today this is the name of a very sad coin that the Portuguese mint here in Goa, called xarafini, which they receive from the Gentiles. The business of these bankers is to buy and sell coin minted in other places, which have not a fixed price, but now increase, now decrease, according to business needs in the regions where they are the currency. […] Their second business is to exchange, which they practice in the way of Ser Ciappelletto (hence one said “Those Lombard dogs”). They make great robberies (tollette) with weekly loans and ordinarily receive 2 % interest per month and with a pledge in hand: a higher rate of interest should not be a sin among them, but there is no one who accepts it. The others who deal in goods, carrying them from one place to another, own a very small capital: because to buy up some item, however big it is, one must have 600 or 700 ducats out of the pocket, by means of which he pawns 8,000, 10,000 and 20,000, getting a loan of the amount he needs as above it is said; and bringing with himself a man of the xaraffo lending him money wherever he wants to clear his merchandise out, here he sells it and refunds the money. But since everything in this art is very unstable it happens often that one loses his capital and remains indebted for the rest of his life; in this case the fault of the moneylenders is partially cancelled. Hence you can see, as I told you above, that it is the same in all the world and the same things occur everywhere proportionally.30

39This early modern world in which Sassetti felt himself a citizen also saw the rise of a global system of finance and speculation. He regarded this as reflecting the deep conformity of reality, which did not signify a lack of “variety and difference.” However, this did not become routine for him. As a Renaissance man in the cosmopolitan world of South Asia, he developed a cosmopolitan attitude as well, although he was doomed to be misunderstood in his native land.

40In February of 1586, Sassetti presented to Cardinal Ferdinando de’ Medici his dream project to continue his travels and to “grant his sense the experience of the remaining things, since leaving from here without seeing Malacca, the Moluccas and China would seem like being at a very wonderful dinner where one savours only the bread that is eaten every day.” His words show the transformation of a desire to discover the East Indies into a cosmopolitan desire to see the world:

  • 31 Letter to Cardinal Ferdinando de’ Medici (10 February 1586), ibid., 532-533.

Leaving from here, my wish would be to go to Malacca and to stay there one year; then I would move to the Moluccas and from there to China where I would like to reside for some time to try to understand something more about this land than what I have learned from reports written by others who were there. From China, I would like to go to Manila, a harbour in the Luzon Island, which is halfway between China and the Moluccas and is ruled by the Castilians, where a governor comes from New Spain. And because every year a ship leaves from the said place of Manila to New Spain, I would like to travel there in order to visit the other Indies and after staying there two years, I would return to our parts. […] considering how much pleasure I had seeing this part [India], I put this desire before any major settling down, especially because I think that in this peregrination I would serve His Highness and Your Most Excellent Lordship, by reporting to you what you will think is worthy of knowledge.31

  • 32 Letter to Maria Sassetti Bartoli (6 January 1587), ibid., 539.

41Sassetti looked for political protection, hoping in vain to become an agent for the grand duchy of Tuscany and to receive funding and licenses to travel across the Portuguese and Spanish empires. He reckoned that his journey around the world would take seven or eight years. In January 1587, he wrote to Baccio Valori that he was still planning to leave towards the end of April 1589. In this period, however, he became more and more annoyed with the repeated pleas by his relatives to return to Florence to take care of family affairs. And the parochial rumours about his exchanges with the Indians, telling of his transformation into a “fanciful man, of little conversation and used to keeping company with slaves,” were a constant source of irritation to him.32

  • 33 Letter to Maria Sassetti Bartoli (27 December 1587), ibid., 543.

42Sadness and a sense of resignation permeate the last surviving letter of Sassetti from Kochi, sent to his sister Maria, at the end of 1587: “I will not be able to be with you anymore. When you will see or write to our nuns, entrust me to them and make them and your sons pray for me.”33 Perhaps he became sick. We do not know whether he received a negative answer or not from Ferdinando, who in the fall of 1587 succeeded his brother Francesco to the title of grand duke.

  • 34 An English translation is available: Carletti 1964. On the limits of Carletti’s description see Col (...)

43In the following years, Ferdinando promoted geographic explorations and long-distance trade analyses, dreaming of a Tuscan colonial expansion in Asia as well as in the Atlantic world (Uzielli 1901). The Florentine merchant Francesco Carletti contributed to this unsuccessful project, completing a voyage around the world between 1590 and 1600, but at the cost of great sufferings and on his own initiative. Carletti’s experience was the opposite of Sassetti’s. Heading west rather than east, his journey moved forward by chance; it was not an endeavour with a cosmopolitan plan but rather an itinerary of random wanderings across the commercial routes of the Spanish and Portuguese empires.34

44The lack of state support for Sassetti’s last visionary voyage is not surprising and shows that perhaps not only his death prevented him from continuing his pathway towards a world of variety and marvel. He remained a Renaissance Florentine with a highly developed cosmopolitan sensibility thanks to his experience of the South Asian cosmopolitan world. His inability to go further seems to reflect the ultimate limitations of the Europe of his time.


45The failure of Sassetti’s project to continue his travel shows to what extent early modern cosmopolitan attitudes were confined to an individual sphere and were far from being a substantial peculiarity of a specific part of Europe or from becoming the basis of a political claim. Figures like him, Federici or Balbi were citizens of the world in a world that was still without the modern concept of citizenship.

46The aim of this article has been to prove that a background in classical culture or the fairy-tale tradition nourished the traces of cosmopolitan ideas and practices which emerged for the first time from the writings of a few authors from Renaissance Italy, but it was only a direct experience of South Asia that made possible to develop such ideas and practices. That unlike Portuguese and other subjects of European overseas empires, Florentine and Venetians crossed this cosmopolitan world as autonomous people might have turned them in more sensible and interactive observers. Of course, this is not to say that there was an essential bent of Renaissance Italians as a whole for cosmopolitan ideas and practices, or even worse that these ideas and practices were essentially an Italian product. This article stresses that in the Age of Exploration the earliest evidence of cosmopolitan statements emerged in the accounts written by a minority of diplomats and merchants from Florence and Venice, travelling around South Asia. Perhaps this also depended on the fact that, despite some unsuccesful colonial attempts, like that of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany in the early seventeenth century, at the time the weakness of Italian political powers restrained them from building transoceanic empires, leaving this for the future. Doubtless, the men analysed in this article remained isolated outsiders, able to convey their cogitations to their readers, but not to promote any real change in their communities of belonging, or their rulers.



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1 There is a huge literature on the topic. A useful introduction for our purposes is Vertovec & Cohen, eds., 2002. A recent overview about globalization and cosmopolitanism is Inglis & Robertson 2011: 295-311.

2 See Ganim & Legassie, eds., 2013. In particular, I refer to Mallette: 21-38, and Chism: 59-78.

3 For a partially similar approach see the chapter by Jos Gommans in this volume, which examines the Dutch presence in seventeenth-century Cochin (Kochi) in the context of a more general reflection about the relationship between South Asian cosmopolitanism and Enlightenment.

4 See, for instance, Jardine & Brotton 2000; Singh, ed., 2009; Gruzinski 2012; Goody 2010.

5 A recent volume about the application of the myth of Alexander to early modern Iberian expansion in the East is Barletta 2010. The centrality of the legend of Alexander is highlighted in the classic article by Subrahmanyam 1997, especially: 752-757.

6 The argument that classical cosmopolitanism, that is from the antiquity to the Enlightenment, was “less Eurocentric than is often assumed” is also defended, in an historical assessment of the backgrounds of contemporary cosmopolitanism, by the sociologist Delanty (2009: 18-50). Curiously, while dealing with controversial matters like rationality and modernisation, the case of cosmopolitanism is not taken into account by Goody (1996).

7 “[…] pour la paix universelle, duquel je me nomme Cosmopolite, desirant la voir accordée, sous la Couronne de France” Postel 1560: iijv. On Postel’s trial see Stella 1968: 426-466.

8 See the influential essay by Koselleck 1985, esp.: 159-197.

9 on these figures see the classic introduction by Lach & Van Kley 1965-1993, vol. 1/1: 468-477.

10 About this topic see McCabe 2008. For a later period see Dew 2009.

11 I quote from Bodin 1945: 301.

12 I translate from the modern critical edition, see Belon du Mans [1553] 2001: 108.

13 “Discorso del Ramusio sul commercio delle spezie,” in Giovanni Battista Ramusio, Navigazioni e viaggi, a cura di M. Milanesi 1978-1988, vol. 2: 967.

14 Clearly depending on the humanistic construct of the Middle Ages, Ramusio’s scheme may induce us to bring Joan-Pau Rubiés’ conclusion forward to the mid-sixteenth century: “by the early seventeenth century [Humanism] also sustained an intellectual perspective concerned with the variety and purpose of human beliefs and customs, one in which the experience overseas even helped relativize the idealizing role of the ancient Greeks and Romans. There was thus a secular universalism behind the idea of the cosmopolitan humanist traveller which was an alternative to exclusive forms of religious universalism,” Rubiés 2000: 397.

15 Not all French authors, of course. A recent essay by John Usher has shown how several Renaissance narratives express an “underlying fear of cultural pollution” (Usher 2010: 199).

16 I refer to Subrahmanyam 2011 and Trivellato 2009. See also Trivellato, Halevi & Antunes, eds., 2014.

17 Peregrinaggio di tre giovani figliuoli del re di Serendippo (1557), proemio. The classic study on this book and its author is Schuyler 1967. See also Piemontese 1987, and Id 1995. On the recovery of this anthology by Voltaire and its epistemological consequence see the famous essay by Ginzburg (1980).

18 Peregrinaggio, proemio. For an introduction to the cosmopolitan and trans-imperial contours of early modern Persian literature, see Dabashi 2012: 191-223.

19 About him, see Membré 1993. See also Arbel 2013: 253-281.

20 I quote from the English translation by Županov 2010: 24.

21 Spallanzani (1997) provides a list of Florentine merchants in Portuguese Asia in the first quarter of the sixteenth century. The reference to the two treatises in the texts is to Pires 1944 and Barbosa 1918- 1921. For an introduction to both these writings see Rubiés 2000: 201-222.

22 On Jesuit missionaries see Roscioni 2001.

23 Thevet 1575, vol. 1, a 3v. About Sassetti’s reading see his letter to Piero Vettori (27 January 1585), in Sassetti 1970: 424.

24 Letter to Francesco Valori (December 1583), ibid. 377. Two years later Sassetti criticised Baldassare Castiglione’s Il Cortegiano (1528) as universal model of behaviour, reporting to have found in the shop of a match-seller in Cochin a copy of this work, which he claims to have read for the first time in India. See his letter to Alessandro Ranuccini (6 February 1586), ibid., 510-511. This story is taken seriously by Burke 1995: 66.

25 Quotations are from the letters to Baccio Valori (20 January 1584), to Francesco Valori (December 1583) and to cardinal Ferdinando de’ Medici (January 1584), in Sassetti 1970: 387, 380 and 400, respectively.

26 Letter to Piero Vettori (January 1584), ibid., 407.

27 Letter to Baccio Valori (27 January 1585), ibid., 418.

28 Quotations are from the letters to Michele Saladini (December 1585), to Baccio Valori (27 January 1585) and to Bernardo Davanzati (22 January 1586), ibid., 463, 418- 420 and 492-493, respectively.

29 Quotations are from the letter to grand duke Francesco de’ Medici (11 February 1585) and those to Baccio Valori (22 January 1586 and 27 January 1585), ibid., 448, 489- 490 and 420 respectively. In a letter to the grand duke dated 10 February 1586, Sassetti also refers to having sent him a summary in Italian of a section about “the matter of simples” from the traditional Sanskrit glossary called Nighaṇṭu, which he has made “thanks to the said Gentile physician” (525). For a discussion of Sassetti’s scientific interests see Milanesi 1973: 53- 77. On the valuable objects he sent to the Medici see Karl 2008.

30 Letter to Alessandro Ranuccini (6 February 1586), ibid., 511-513.

31 Letter to Cardinal Ferdinando de’ Medici (10 February 1586), ibid., 532-533.

32 Letter to Maria Sassetti Bartoli (6 January 1587), ibid., 539.

33 Letter to Maria Sassetti Bartoli (27 December 1587), ibid., 543.

34 An English translation is available: Carletti 1964. On the limits of Carletti’s description see Colla 2009.

Table des illustrations

Titre Fig. 1. Portrait de Guillaume Postel in André Thevet, Les vrais portraits et vies des hommes illustres grecz, latins et payens (1584).
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Titre Fig. 2. Christopher the Armenian, Peregrinaggio di tre giovani figliuoli del re di Serendippo (Venice, Michele Tramezzino, 1557), frontispiece.
Fichier image/jpeg, 15k
Titre Fig. 3. Gasparo Balbi, Viaggio dell’Indie orientali (Venice, Camillo Borgominieri, 1590), frontispiece.
Fichier image/jpeg, 12k
Titre Fig. 4. Map of Portuguese Cochin, from the Livro das plantas das fortalezas, citades e provoações do Estado da India Oriental (first half of the 17th century), Museu Biblioteca da Casa de Bragança, Paço Ducal, Vila Viçosa (Portugal).
Fichier image/jpeg, 40k


Assistant Professor of Early Modern History, University of Tuscia, Viterbo (2012-), his resarch interests cover modern history, Renaissance studies, history of historiography, global history, connected history, imperial history, colonialism, history of Iberian Empires, history of slavery, history of the Portuguese empire, Portuguese Inquisition, history of religion, history of Roman Catholicism, history of emotions, history of homosexuality, Atlantic world, religious conversion, history of missions, and Jesuit history.
– 2012 A consciência de um império. Portugal e o seu mundo (sécs. XV-XVII), Coimbra, Imprensa da Universidade de Coimbra.
– 2013 G. M. & J. P. Paiva, História da Inquisição Portuguesa, 1536-1821, Lisbon, Esfera dos Livros.
– 2015 G. M. & U. Grassi, eds., Le trasgressioni della carne: Il desiderio omosessuale nel mondo islamico e cristiano, secc. XII-XX, Roma, Viella.

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