Atlantic History Giovanni da Verrazzano, Explorer
Luca Codignola
  • LAST REVIEWED: 12 January 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 12 January 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0375


Giovanni da Verrazzano was a navigator of Tuscan origin, said to be born either in 1491 (or less likely in 1485), who, between 7 March 1524 (sighting of Cape Fear, North Carolina) and early July 1524 (arrival in Dieppe), led his ship Dauphine in the earliest known European exploration of the Eastern coasts of what are now the United States and Canada, from the Carolinas in the south to Nova Scotia and possibly Newfoundland in the North. In his short, dry, and apparently reliable report to the king of France Francis I (dated from Dieppe on 8 July 1524), he described the local flora and fauna, together with the Indigenous peoples he met. The main purpose of his 1524 crossing and of the expeditions that preceded and followed it was the finding of a Northwest Passage to Cathay (East Indies). The French Crown granted its patronage to the 1524 expedition, which was financially backed by investors in Florence and France (Rouen, Lyons), most of them of Tuscan origin. However, since the continental passage was not found and the surveyed coastline did not reveal any economic potential that could be compared to the Spanish riches in the south, Verrazzano’s 1524 expedition did not yield any follow-up and the eastern coastline north of Florida did not attract any new attempt at discovery until the early 17th century. Most of Verrazzano’s life is still shrouded in mystery. The date and place of his birth are unknown, nothing is known of his early years, and his possible participation in a 1508 voyage to the Gulf of St. Lawrence is not documented. He was probably active in Mediterranean trade, but the time of his joining the Florentine circles of relatives and friends in France before 1521 is again mostly conjectural. Lastly, there exists no other documentation of his 1524 crossing except his own report. After the 1524 expedition he was involved in an expedition to Brazil (1526–1527) and in another to Florida and the Lesser Antilles (1528), where he is said to have met with violent death.

Reference Works

The two most important reference works on Verrazzano are those of the American historian and librarian Lawrence Counselman Wroth (Wroth 1970), and Mollat du Jourdin and Habert 1982, written by Michel Mollat du Jourdin and Jacques Habert, the former a specialist in French maritime history, the latter a nonprofessional historian. Habert had graduated at Columbia University with a Master’s thesis on Verrazzano, which he then condensed in a book lacking most scholarly apparatus (Habert 1964) and in a more popular biographical study (Habert 1993). Overall summaries of Verrazzano’s life were compiled in Morley 1966, Thrower 1999, and Guidi Bruscoli 2013, as well as in Miroglio 1991, Picquet 1999, and Surdich 2020, the last three items emphasizing developments in Italian historiography since the 19th century. Given the paucity of original documentation, these reference works are very similar, and in principle, their dates of publication reflect the appearance of new evidence. This is all the more true of Rombai 1993.

  • Guidi Bruscoli, Francesco. “Giovanni da Verrazzano.” In Amerigo Vespucci e i mercanti viaggiatori fiorentini del Cinquecento. Edited by Margherita Azzari and Leonardo Rombai, 125–130. Florence: Firenze University Press, 2013.

    A good biographical entry, still considering Verrazzano’s traditional 1485 date of birth as the most plausible.

  • Habert, Jacques. La vie et les voyages de Jean de Verrazane. Ottawa, ON: Le Circle du Livre de France, 1964.

    The earliest detailed biography of Verrazzano, unfortunately published without its scholarly apparatus. Uses Archives départementales de la Seine Maritime and Bibliothèque Nationale. Originally published in 1949.

  • Habert, Jacques. Verrazane: Quand New York s’appelait Angoulême. Paris: Éditions Perrin, 1993.

    A popular biographical study based on the authors’ previous research.

  • Miroglio, Andrea. “Giovanni da Verrazzano.” In Nuovo Mondo: Gli italiani 1492–1565. Edited by Paolo Collo and Pier Luigi Crovetto, 385–408. Turin, Italy: Giulio Einaudi, 1991.

    A very good summary of Verrazzano’s travels before and after 1524, emphasizing the role of Italian 19th-century historiography.

  • Mollat du Jourdin, Michel, and Jacques Habert. Giovanni et Girolamo Verrazano navigateurs de François Ier: Dossiers de voyages. Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, 1982.

    An indispensable work on the Verrazzano brothers, including transcribed documents and new evidence surfaced after Wroth 1970 which suggest that the cosmographic portion of the Verrazzano’s 1524 report could have been the work of another author. In the discussion of the influence of the 1529 Verrazzano planisphere, the map of Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues (c. 1565) is missing.

  • Morley, William Felix Edmund. “Verrazzano, Giovanni da.” In Dictionary of Canadian Biography: 1: 1000 to 1700. Edited by George W. Brown, Marcel Trudel, and André Vachon, 657–660. Toronto, Buffalo, London: University of Toronto Press, 1966.

    Initial information on the Verrazzano family, later revised in Boglione 1999.

  • Picquet, Théa. “Voyages d’un Florentin: Giovanni da Verrazzano (1485–1528).” Cahiers d’études romaines 3 (1999): 41–80; also Rinascimento, ser. 2, 39 (1999): 431–466.

    DOI: 10.4000/etudesromanes.3378

    A lengthy but not particularly innovative article, with Miroglio 1991 as its point of reference.

  • Rombai, Leonardo, ed. Il Mondo di Vespucci e Verrazzano: Geografia e viaggi: Dalla Terrasanta all’America. Florence: Leo S. Olschki, 1993.

    A celebrative collection that contains some chapters on Giovanni da Verrazzano, notably by Alessandro Boglione, Leandro Perini, and Raffaella Signorini, none of which are particularly innovative.

  • Surdich, Francesco. “Verrazzano, Giovanni.” In Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani. Edited by Alberto Maria Ghisalberti, et al. 99. Rome: Istituto della Enciclopedia Italiana, 2020.

    This more recent among biographical entries leans toward 1491 as Verrazzano’s date of birth, and includes a vast bibliography especially good on 19th-century Italian historiography.

  • Thrower, Norman Joseph William. “Verrazzano, Giovanni (1485?-1528).” In American National Biography. 22. Edited by John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, 332–333. New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, [1994] 1999.

    A short biographical entry emphasizing the many doubtful occurrences that still surround Verrazzano’s life and navigational exploits.

  • Wroth, Lawrence Counselman. The Voyages of Giovanni da Verrazzano, 1524–1528. New Haven, CT, London: Published for the Pierpont Morgan Library by Yale University Press, 1970.

    The authoritative and unsurpassed study of Verrazzano’s voyages, including the text of his 1524 report, never questioned except in part in Hatzoupolos and Virr 1992 (cited in Documentary Evidence).

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