Renaissance Craftsmen and Humanistic Scholars: European Circulation of Knowledge between Portugal and Germany

National Library of Portugal, Lisbon; Interuniversity Centre for the History of Science and Technology, CIUHCT, University of Lisbon; Research Centre for Communication and Culture, CECC, Catholic University of Portugal, Lisbon
20.11.2014 - 21.11.2014
Luís Tirapicos, Interuniversity Centre for the History of Science and Technology, University of Lisbon

How was scientific and technical knowledge transferred between craftsmen and humanistic scholars in the Renaissance? And, in particular, how did this process arise in the cultural, commercial and political relations between Portugal and Germany in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries? To adress these fascinating questions, 13 papers were presented on the 20th and 21st of November 2014, at the National Library of Portugal (BNP), in Lisbon, by a small, but very active group of international researchers at Workshop “Renaissance Craftsmen and Humanistic Scholars: European Circulation of Knowledge between Portugal and Germany”. The meeting was organized by two research centres in collaboration with BNP: the Interuniversity Centre for the History of Science and Technology (CIUHCT, University of Lisbon), and the Research Centre for Communication and Culture (CECC, Catholic University of Portugal, Lisbon). Economic relations between Germany and Portugal started already in the Middle Ages (cf. the foundation of the “Bartholomäusbruderschaft”), but it was only during the time of the Portuguese maritime discoveries that German trading houses (like the Welser and the Fugger families) established permanent factories in Lisbon.

After some years of preparation, the spectacular marriage between the Emperor Frederic III (1415–1493) and Leonor (1436–1467), Portuguese infanta and sister of King Afonso V (ruled 1449–1481), took place in 1451/1452 at Lisbon and Rome. In his talk ACHIM THOMAS HACK (Jena) explored the question whether traces of a cultural exchange or, at least, of a mutual interest could be established as a consequence of this wedding.

JÜRGEN POHLE (Lisbon / Ponta Delgada) addressed the so-called “first age of globalization”, a period in which the Portuguese overseas expansion influenced decisively the political, economic and cultural relations between Portugal and Germany, as no other event of this age. Pohle’s presentation tried to clarify the discussion about the Portuguese Discoveries in Nuremberg at the end of the fifteenth century and the special role of Martin Behaim and Hieronymus Münzer as mediators, and also about the growing interest of the Roman Holy Emperor Maximilian I in the Portuguese overseas expansion.

The paper presented by MARÍLIA DOS SANTOS LOPES (Lisbon) analyzed the intensive relations between travelers, merchants and scholars in Portugal and the German Roman Empire from the end of the fifteenth century until the first half of the sixteenth century. Exploring some outstanding examples Marília dos Santos Lopes showed how the German knowledge community was longing for the many new insights which Portuguese travelers had brought from all over the world, concerning its borders and outlines as well as the people they met and described.

TORSTEN ARNOLD (Lisbon / Frankfurt an der Oder) claimed that generally the publications of the German economic historian Hermann Kellenbenz (1913–1990) on Portuguese economic history and the German-Portuguese relationships can be separated into two parts: the first is the history of the relationships between Portugal and the Upper German merchant families such as the Ehinger, Fugger, Herwart, Höchstetter, Imhoff and Welser during the first half of the sixteenth century. The second is the historical development of the relationships between Hamburg (and the Hanseatic League) and Portugal including the Azores and Madeira during the latter sixteenth and early seventeenth century. The research of Kellenbenz in international archives has not only produced knowledge allowing a generic investigation on merchants, trade and shipping between Central and Western Europe, but his global perspective permitted an understanding of the political and economic circumstances of the period.

YVONNE HENDRICH’s (Mainz) presentation dealt with the Lisbon-based typographer, Valentim Fernandes of Moravian-German descent, who, at the turn of the sixteenth century, not only printed religious and secular books but also worked as a notary and interpreter for German merchants residing in Portugal’s capital. Fernandes contributed significantly to the dissemination of information about the New Worlds through his correspondence with merchants and humanistic scholars from Nuremberg and Augsburg, Upper Germany’s trade centers and printing capitals of the time.

GREGOR M. METZIG’s (Regensburg) paper addressed the lives of German and Flemish adventurers in Kochi, with a particular emphasis on their living conditions and their travel-impressions. With the founding of the fortified settlement of Santa Cruz de Cochim near the present-day Malabarian city of Kochi at the end of 1500 starts the Portuguese presence in Asia. In 1514, the first governor Afonso de Albuquerque established a separate chapel for Germans and Flemings in the St. Bartholomew church in Kochi. This was also a gathering point for agents of the upper German trade houses from Nuremberg and Augsburg, who followed the mercenaries on the search for lucrative businesses in the profitable Indian trade. In the course of the sixteenth century, some of these non-Portuguese adventurers were put on trial by the inquisition because of their protestant faith or their disloyalty towards the Portuguese crown.

GABRIELE KAISER (Berlin) analyzed the biography of Leonhard Thurneysser zum Thurn (1531–1596). Thurneysser was a Renaissance man who excelled in various fields like chemistry, metallurgy, botany, mathematics, astronomy and medicine. He was the personal doctor of the Brandenburg Elector, alchemist, pharmacist, astrologer, writer and printer. He was born in Basel, worked as a goldsmith and mercenary, travelled to Scotland, England and Portugal, lived in Tyrol and since 1570 in Brandenburg. There he had the most successful time of his life, while little is known about his later
period in Rome. The Berlin State Library (Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin) holds the legacy of this adventurous and impressive man – more than 20 volumes comprising hundreds of letters, manuscripts and drafts. Among them is the description of Portugal and its nature (addressed in Thomas Horst’s presentation).

THOMAS HORST (Lisbon) discussed this – recently rediscovered – manuscript about Portuguese plants and animals. It was composed by Thurneysser while he was living in the house of the famous Portuguese Humanist Damião de Góis (1502–1574) in 1555/1556 in Lisbon. Thomas Horst argued that this important manuscript is the earliest known description of Iberian Flora and Fauna written in German. The text is part of a miscellany and is divided into four parts. Thurneysser recorded Lusitanic herbs, bush plants and fruits as well as animals and fishes, many of them completely new to the young Swiss alchemist. Furthermore, he provided interesting details about “Historica, Geographica medica et varie mixta”. A Lisbon based research group (Henrique Leitão, Bernardo Herold and Thomas Horst) has recently established collaboration with the Berlin State Library with the aim of transcribing and editing the entire text.

Leonhard Thurneysser zum Thurn was also the object of YVES SCHUMACHER’s (Zürich) talk. Schumacher argued that Thurneysser’s autobiographical notes are not always above suspicion. Schumacher’s research also casts doubts on Thurneysser’s multilingualism expressed in his “Onomasticum” (Berlin, 1583) because his Latin skills were shown to be very weak. However, the printed works of the Swiss polymath show that he had the talent to win renowned scientists and artists for producing sumptuous publications. Moreover, Schumacher argued that Thurneysser’s claim to have enjoyed in 1555–1556 the hospitality of Damião de Góis in Lisbon is credible, because this Portuguese humanist was an intimate friend of Erasmus of Rotterdam (1466–1536).

Spectacular collections assembled by royal collectors in the Renaissance, particularly the Wittelsbach and Habsburg houses were the theme of ANNEMARIE JORDAN-GSCHWEND’s (Lisbon / Jona, Switzerland) talk. Through far-flung trade networks established by German merchant communities based in Augsburg, Nuremberg and Regensburg, these shoppers were able to tap into a global market for luxury goods and exotica exported to Portugal and Spain. How did Central European royal collectors buy the rarities showcased in their Kunstkammern, and how were their courts linked with marketplaces in Africa, Asia and the New World? Jordan-Gschwend’s paper looked at the role intermediaries played in the formation of collections north of the Alps, in particular, the Munich Kunstkammer of Albrecht V (1528–1579), Duke of Bavaria.

Christoph Schissler the Elder (ca. 1531–1608) was one of the most prominent members of an especially successful generation of makers of astronomical and mathematical instruments in Augsburg in the second half of the sixteenth century. SAMUEL GESSNER (Lisbon) discussed a magnificent celestial globe (c. 40 cm diameter) inscribed with the year 1575 – now at the Palacio Nacional de Sintra, Portugal. Its careful manufacture in gilt engraved copper presents all the attributes of a collection piece of the higher nobility. Gessner stated that it has been part of the Portuguese Royal collections at least since the beginning of the twentieth century.

SVEN DUPRÉ’s (Berlin) paper reported on work-in-progress in collaboration with Christine Göttler on the material possessions of the Portuguese merchant-banker Emmanuel Ximenez (1564–1632). The Ximenez family belonged to the few New Christian and Portuguese families who stayed over several generations in Antwerp. They were active in global trade of bulk products and luxury goods (sugar and spices, jewelry, precious stones, pearls, corals, textiles, and books, among others) and in monetary transactions with the Spanish Crown. In his house at the Meir, Emmanuel Ximenez brought together one of the most splendid collections of early seventeenth-century Antwerp art.

WOLFGANG KÖBERER (Frankfurt am Main) argued that in the age of the discoveries trade relationships between the German territories and Portugal were probably much closer than relationships in the field of science although there is enough evidence that the astronomical and cosmological literature was mutually absorbed in the relevant circles. Nevertheless, according to Köberer this does not apply to nautical science: the myth that Martin Behaim (1459–1507) had brought from Nuremberg to Portugal the astronomical tables and nautical instruments that were at the basis of the Portuguese discoveries was thoroughly debunked more than 100 years ago.

Conference overview:

Introduction and welcome speech
Thomas Horst / Bernardo Herold (Lisbon)

Panel I: Historical relations
Chair: Thomas Horst (Lisbon)

Achim Thomas Hack (Jena), Eine portugiesisch-österreichische Heirat in der Mitte des 15. Jahrhunderts und ihre kulturellen Folgen.

Jürgen Pohle (Lisbon / Ponta Delgada), Maximiliano I, os mercadores e humanistas de Nuremberga e a Expansão Portuguesa (em finais do século XV).

Marília dos Santos Lopes (Lisbon), Importar saber: Portugal e a cultura científica na Alemanha dos séculos XV e XVI.

Torsten Arnold (Lisbon / Frankfurt an der Oder), Hermann Kellenbenz and the German-Portuguese economic relationships during the 16th century.

Panel II: Valentim Fernandes and the Germans Overseas
Chair: Marília dos Santos Lopes (Lisbon)

Yvonne Hendrich (Mainz), De insulis et peregrinatione lusitanorum – o papel de Valentim Fernandes como divulgador de informações entre Portugal e a Alta Alemanha.

Gregor M. Metzig (Regensburg), Germans and Dutchmen at the S. Bartholomew Chapel in Portuguese-Kochi.

Panel III: Leonhard Thurneisser zum Thurn (1531–1596) and his relations to Portugal
Chair: Jürgen Pohle (Lisbon / Ponta Delgada)

Gabriele Kaiser (Berlin), Leonhard Thurneysser (1531–1596) und sein Nachlass in der Berliner Staatsbibliothek.

Thomas Horst (Lisbon), A rediscovered Manuscript about Portuguese Plants and Animals – First results.

Yves Schumacher (Zürich), Exkurs: Basel – Fluchtpunkt der Humanisten und Alchemisten.

Panel IV: Relations in the History of Science
Chair: Henrique Leitão (Lisbon)

Annemarie Jordan-Gschwend (Lisbon / Jona, Switzerland), Shopping in the Renaissance – Merchants as Cultural Mediators in Spain, Portugal and their Overseas Empires.

Samuel Gessner (Lisbon), Lost between centuries: a celestial globe (1575) from Augsburg in Portuguese royal collections.

Sven Dupré (Berlin), Technology, the Circulation of Knowledge and Collecting in Early Modern Antwerp: The German Connections of the Portuguese Merchant-Banker Emmanuel Ximenez.

Wolfgang Köberer (Frankfurt am Main), Das rechte Fundament der Seefahrt: Deutsch-Portugiesische Beziehungen.

Final discussion

Tagungsbericht: Renaissance Craftsmen and Humanistic Scholars: European Circulation of Knowledge between Portugal and Germany, 20.11.2014 – 21.11.2014 Lisbon, in: H-Soz-Kult, 08.10.2015, <>.