Skip to content

Bizzaro: Yes, I Stole a Piece of Pizzaro – Grave Robbers’ Affidavit

April 4, 2012


Tucked in amidst the forthcoming Bonham’s April 14 auction The Mapping & Discovery of America, some 94 lots of manuscripts, maps and other artifacts, is this remarkable affidavit from 1848 signed by three men who claimed to have stolen a piece of the partially mummified body of the explorer Pizzaro from a cathedral in Peru.

KINNEY, H.E., WILLIAM DECOURSEY AND JOSEPH BROLASKY. Manuscript Document in English in two different hands, with three different signatures, 1 p, small folio (conjoined address leaf), Caleno, Jan. 10th 1848, taking the form of signed written statements by Kinney and DeCoursey, with a third section written by DeCoursey, certifying to the correctness of the preceding statements, and also signed by Brolasky; the address panel reads “Simon P. Brolasky Esqr. / No. 419 Chestnut Street / Philadelphia.” Old folds, general toning, soiling.A curious signed affidavit of three American curio hunters who in 1848 removed a piece of muscle from Pizarro’s partially mummified body in the Cathedral in Peru, and posted it home to Philadelphia. DeCoursey did the deed, whilst Kinney distracted the attention o the sexton. Brolasky confirms the truthfulness of the two statements, and a relative of his in Philadelphia is the named recipient of what must surely have been the most macabre package he ever received. Only the document is now offered for sale, the whereabouts of the portion of Pizarro’s tibialis antiensmuscle is unknown.

US$ 500 – 800
£310 – 500
€380 – 600
THIS LOT SOLD FOR $687 including the buyer’s premium
Thefts like this were popular in mediaeval Europe, though it was usually some saint’s body (or part thereof) that was stolen and later enshrined in a pilgrimage site (pilgrimage sites were big business and the more important the saint, the more people it would attract).  If you want to know more about this, read Patrick Geary’s entertaining (yes, I do mean entertaining) Furta Sacra:
But getting back to the Bonham’s sale, here’s another remarkable item; this chronicle contains contemporary accounts of voyages to the New World by Columbus, Vespucci and others.


BERNARDUS ALBINGAUNENSIS. Manuscript on paper, “Dialogo nuperrime editio Genue in 1512. Contiene sotto compendio: De tutti li circuli:et sphere celeste … a le Cita principe de tutto lo Orbe … et che Distantia sera tra Oppido et Oppido in Militari … Nota: Quo modo:et personis:uersus Mare indicum reperta fuerint navigation. Et que insule alias incognite inuente fuerint a Genuensi Columbo. Necnon yet terra firma nostrrorum antecessorum nemini cognita,” 4to, 48 leaves and 4 flyleaves, Monastery of St Mary Magdalene at Monterossa al Mare, dated February 10, to April 15, 1512 (colophons f3v and f45v), written in Italian excepting a few headings in Latin, modern pencil foliation 1-50 includes the fly leaves. Double column, 47 lines, written in a neat humanistic Italian hand, numerous calligraphic initials, chapter numbers and some titles in red, 18 astronomical diagrams in red and brown within the text, one with coloring in yellow and green, 25 pages of tables detailing astronomical and geographical information on red ruled grids. Some light spotting to margins, clean paper flaw to f48, not affecting text, front flyleaves browned. Contemporary vellum backed paper covers, worn and cracked, lower section of back cover restored, lined with a portion of a vellum life taken from a 14th century manuscript Breviary with musical notations on five bar staves.
Provenance: Written in 1512 by Bernardo of Albenga (a small town west of Genoa), a Benedictine monk at the Monastery of St Mary Magdalene at Monterosso al Mare (east of Genoa), dedicated to Lorenzo Fieschi, Bishop of Ascoli (f3v); Canezzo Family of Genoa (numerous family notes dated 1567-1641 on front and back flyleaves; Robert B Honeyman, his sale Sotheby’s, May 2, 1979, lot 1147; H.P. Kraus catalog 185 item 16, America Vetustissima; Christies New York, December 14, 2000, lot 243.AN IMPORTANT MANUSCRIPT WITH NEAR CONTEMPORARY ACCOUNTS OF THE VOYAGES TO THE NEW WORLD BY COLUMBUS, VESPUCCI AND OTHER NAVIGATORS TO THE AMERICAS AND ASIA. THE HONEYMAN- KRAUS COPY.
Although the majority of the scientific texts are given over to the Compendium, covering distances, stars, and other interesting navigational concepts, it is the final five pages f46-48 added after his colophon on f45v, that surprise us. Titled in Latin “Hic continetur qua ratione inuenta fuerit navigatio firme terre Indiane uersus: Et insule incognite:et terra firma nulli antecessoribus cognita” (Here is contained how the method of navigation was discovered towards India and the discovery of unknown islands and terra firma not known before), Bernardo gives considerable detail regarding 9 voyages to the New World and Asia.
These include Columbus’s first voyage in 1492; Columbus’s second voyage in 1493, with a personal account of events taken from Michele de Cuneo of Savona (a boyhood friend of Columbus who might have been personally interviewed by Bernardo); the discoveries of Alonso Negro and Pinzone with Columbus; Alise de Cadamosto’s voyage to the Senegal River in 1455 and his second voyage in 1456 to the Gambia river; a general account of Portuguese voyages round the Cape of Good Hope and on to India with a mention of China beyond; notes on a letter dated Lisbon July 20, 1499 describing a journey to India, the Red Sea and the Spice Islands; a voyage of 1501 (Cabral) to India with 13 ships sent by the King of Portugal; and the third voyage of “Alberico Vespucio” (sic) setting out on March 14, 1501. Bernardo ends the section with a Latin dedication (trans): “Receive therefore, most reverend father and Lord in Christ, Lord Lorenzo de Flisco, Bishop of Ascoli, and illustrious governor of Rome and noble patrician of Genoa, the above dialogue, in a happy and cheerful spirit, as you always are; which, a slight work, I dedicated to your command, to be a perpetual indicator of the sincere love for you of myself. Don Bernardus Albingaunensis. Farewell best of readers. The end, by him through whose grace all things come.”

This final text in the dialogo is an extraordinary concentration of information, giving precise accounts of the voyages, distances between places, and quirky details not found in other versions. The first-hand account of Michele de Cuneo from Savona near Genoa, whom Bernardo probably interviewed, includes the statement that “he said that the basis for finding these islands was a book of Ptolemy, which came into Columbus’s hands.” Although there is a long letter written in 1495 by Cuneo describing his adventures, this note by Bernardo includes information not in that letter. The details on distances between the West Indian islands may also derive from Cuneo. Other details include Vespucci’s description (trans): “ from Cape Verde as far as the beginning of this continent was approximately 700 leagues; although he estimated to me that he had sailed more than 1800: and this happened partly through the ignorance of the helmsman and through various storms which drove him hither and thither,” going on to say that Vespucci sailed south down the south American coast, “and he sailed so much of this coast that he passed the Tropic of Capricorn, and found the Antarctic Pole, and from this the horizon was 50 degrees higher, and he was near the Antarctic Circle, 17 degrees 30 minutes.” Could it have been that Bernardo also talked to Vespucci about his travels? This description of the third voyage adds more clarity to the achievements of Vespucci, supporting Vespucci’s own claims to have reached 17 degrees south.

Of Bernardus Albingaunensis relatively little is known; just 4 manuscripts written by him have survived: one in Genoa, one in Rome, and the Newberry Library in Chicago have a text Explanatio super cosmographia Ptolemei written March 1497 to May 25, 1506. This manuscript seems to be his final work bringing together his train of thought on many scientific subjects. His attention to detail is apparent in this dialogo: he was interested in facts, in accuracy, and in the ways of navigation (not surprisingly since Genoa was the center of navigational prowess at this time). The final five pages of thedialogo raise a number of interesting questions as to how he obtained this detailed information and the apparent accuracy of it. All this makes the text an intriguing and important part in the jigsaw puzzle of the history of the discovery of the New World and particularly America.

US$ 180,000 – 250,000
£110,000 – 160,000
€140,000 – 190,000
THIS LOT SOLD FOR $326,500 including the buyer’s premium.
No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: