Dialogo è accettare l'altro come è e come egli stesso si definisce e si presenta a noi, di non cessare di essere se stessi mentre ci si confronta con il diverso, di essere consapevoli che la nostra identità esce arricchita e non sminuita da chi di questa identità non accetta alcuni elementi, magari anche quelli che noi riteniamo fondamentali. La riconciliazione è possibile, tra i cristiani e nella compagnia degli uomini. (Enzo Bianchi, priore della Comunità di Bose)

Exhibitions / Global Positioning c. 1600: A Rare World Map

Matteo Ricci
Italian, 1552-1610
Kunyu wanguo quantu
(Complete map of all the nations of the world)

Published by Zhang Wentao, Beijing, 1602
Woodblock print
Overall measuring approximately 5.5 x 12.5 feet
James Ford Bell Trust

Saturday, May 15, 2010—Sunday, August 29, 2010
Cargill Gallery 103
Free Exhibition

Matteo Ricci's monumental world map of 1602 has been as elusive as it is legendary, with only six complete copies of the woodblock print known to exist. Popularly called "The Impossible Black Tulip," Kunyu wanguo quantu, or Map of the Ten Thousand Countries of the World, is coming to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. This map, which was created by a visiting Italian-born Jesuit priest, Matteo Ricci, is the oldest surviving Chinese map to show the Americas.
Scholar, Crane, and Banana Tree
A select group of Ming dynasty objects, Chinese export porcelain, western maps, and Counter-Reformation devotional images will be on view with the map. Rare Chinese woodblock prints from an illustrated Bible published by Ricci's Jesuit colleague, Giulio Aleni, will also be displayed, evoking the cultural and religious exchange between China and Europe during this period.

The Ricci Map is owned by the James Ford Bell Trust, and has been loaned to the MIA.

Matteo Ricci and His Rare World Map

 Filled with admiration for the great Chinese empire . . . I came from the West on a boat in the year 1582.
—Matteo Ricci, from his map of 1602

When the young Jesuit priest Matteo Ricci (1552-1610) left Italy for missionary work in Asia, he traveled an unimaginable distance and faced extraordinary peril. Shipwreck, pirates, and disease were constant threats at sea, and letters from China could take three or four years to reach Rome. Ricci spent nearly thirty years in China, establishing Christian missions on the mainland. Often viewed with suspicion, he and his fellow Jesuits were arrested a number of times and banished from various towns. Yet in 1601, Ricci secured an invitation to enter the Forbidden City and became one of the first Westerners ever admitted.

Ricci’s religious devotion was matched by his intellectual curiosity. A scholar with interests in science, mathematics, and geography, he gained favor with China’s powerful governing class of scholar-officials, or literati. He mastered the Chinese language, studied Confucianism, and adopted the dress of a Chinese intellectual. Ricci introduced his new colleagues to the recent advances of Western science—from precision timepieces to terrestrial globes. In his own words, he “amazed the entire philosophical world of China.”

The world map Ricci created in Beijing in 1602 is exceptional on many counts. In addition to its large size and Chinese-centered perspective, it is the oldest surviving Chinese map to show the Americas. Although Ricci located China at the center, the map revealed the vastness of the globe, giving the inward-facing culture of the late Ming dynasty a wholly new conception of China’s place in the world. According to Ricci’s published diary (also exhibited in this gallery), when the Chinese saw “what an almost unlimited stretch of land and sea lay between Europe and China, that realization seemed to diminish the fear our presence had occasioned.”

To create this map, Ricci resourcefully drew from both Western and Eastern cartographic traditions. He relied on 16th-century Dutch atlases, including the Ortelius map exhibited here, and also consulted Chinese scholars and made use of Chinese maps and land surveys. Thus he was able to add such wonderful details as an accurate charting of the Great Wall. The map’s large scale, Ricci explained, let the viewer “travel about, as it were, while reclining at ease in his own study.” Although the map was printed in great quantities, today only six complete examples are known. After its showing at the MIA, this rare monument of cartography will be permanently on view at the James Ford Bell Library at the University of Minnesota.

Selected Texts from Matteo Ricci's 1602 Map

The monumental size of this map gave Ricci ample space for extensive commentary. His descriptive legend covers such subjects as cosmography, astronomy, latitude and longitude, and evidence of the earth’s spherical shape and includes colorful accounts of the world’s diverse lands and cultures. He drew from the late 16th-century European atlases he brought with him to China—namely the works of Abraham Ortelius, Gerard Mercator, and Petrus Plancius—and also from Chinese sources. Many of Ricci’s Chinese translations of new place names are still used in China today, for example, Ya-ma-chia (Jamaica) and Ku-pa (Cuba). The text is a lively blend of fact and fantasy. This slide show features some excerpts.


"The continent of Europe comprises more than 30 countries, all of which are monarchies that follow the systems of the previous kings. No one here indulges in superstitions; everyone adheres only to the Holy Religion of the Lord of Heaven, the Supreme Deity.* Their officials are divided into three classes: the highest are occupied with matters of religion, then those deciding secular affairs, and finally those who are concerned exclusively with the military. The region produces five grains, five metals and 100 species of fruit. Wine is made from the juice of grapes. All of the workers are excellent. They study astronomy and philosophy. Their customs are simple and straightforward; they value the five relationships. Production is very abundant. The princes and the people are powerful and rich. In every season relations are maintained with foreign countries. The traders and merchants go to every country in the world. It is 80,000 li from the Middle Kingdom [China]. In antiquity there was no contact with Europe. It is only in the past 70 or so years that there has been contact."

Curator's note:
*The italicized text is lost in this version of the map (see the missing characters in the detail). Here, significantly, Ricci discussed Christianity. This passage must have been deemed offensive at some point in the map's history and was effaced. (I would like to thank Ann Waltner, Professor in the Department of Asian Languages and Literatures and the Department of History at the University of Minnesota, for her insightful contribution to translating this passage).

Europe, England

"In England there are no poisonous snakes or other similar reptiles; thus when such things come here from other places, they immediately lose their venom."

Curator's note:
As noted in Girolamo Ruscelli's 1561 atlas, it is actually Ireland that has no snakes, a fact Ricci mistakenly attributed to England. Although Saint Patrick has been credited with banishing snakes from Ireland, the absence of snakes is actually a geographical phenomenon resulting from snakes' inability to survive crossing the cold waters separating the island from the rest of Great Britain.

Europe, "Country of Dwarves"

"Country of Dwarves. The men and women of this kingdom are only a little more than one foot tall. At the age of five they already have children, and at eight, they are already old. Constantly devoured by cranes and hawks, they live in caves for safety. Here they wait until the third month of summer, when they come out and destroy the eggs of their enemies, riding on goats."

Curator's note:
The Dutch cartographer Petrus Plancius described similar dwarves in Greenland in his 1592 atlas; however, these men and women were said to be four feet tall.

Europe, Italy

"Italy. Here the pope, who lives in celibacy, occupies himself solely with the Catholic religion. He is venerated by everyone in the kingdoms of Europe found in the Roman Empire. Sicily. This island has two mountains, one which always emits fire, while the other continuously emits smoke, without interruption, all day and night."

Africa, The Nile River

"The river Nile. Here is the longest river in the world. It empties into the sea at seven points. During the whole year, there are never clouds or rain; hence the inhabitants are experts in astronomy. Every year the river overflows for a period, which makes the land very fertile, as though manure has been spread on the fields. That is why they cultivate five grains and reap their harvest a hundredfold. The country is renowned for its wealth and abundance."

Africa, Monomotapa

"In Monomotapa [modern-day Zimbabwe and Mozambique] there is an animal with a head like a horse, a horn on his forehead, and an extremely thick hide with scales all over; the limbs and tail are similar to those of a cow. One wonders if it is a unicorn."

Asia, The Hu-lu River

""Ox-foot Turks. The people here have human bodies and ox feet. The river is called the Hu-lu. In the summer and autumn, the ice is two feet thick; in the winter and spring it freezes to the bottom. In order to drink, they must continually melt the ice in vessels on the fire."

Curator's note:
Ricci's description of the people of the western Siberian plain came from a Chinese source, Ma Tuan-lin's Wen-hsian T'ung-k'ao.

Asia, Malacca

"The land of Malacca is full of flying dragons which coil around trees. Their bodies are not more than four to five feet in length, and people often shoot them."

Asia, Hotan

"To the east of Hotan are rocky cliffs, and still farther east there is a desert of shifting sands. Travelers leave no tracks in the sand; thus very often they lose their way. To mark the route, they pile up bones. There are no rivers or vegetation here, only very hot winds."

Curator's note:
This is an excellent description of the great Taklimakan desert, a wilderness so formidable that travelers along the Silk Road had to edge along its northern or southern border. Taklimakan means "those who go in, do not come out." Many ancient, desiccated corpses have been excavated from these sands in recent decades. DNA analysis reveals that the people were of mixed ancestry, some having both European and Siberian genetic markers, while others were of East Asian origin.


"Rare are those who have traveled to this southern land; thus neither the inhabitants nor products are known."

Curator's note:
The colossal southern land mass stretching across the lower quarter of Ricci's map, which he calls Magellanica, includes Australia, Antarctica, New Guinea, and much hypothesized land. Notoriously dangerous, the southern seas were the last frontier in the Age of Exploration. Sailors complained of the mountainous waves and areas of shallow waters and sharp rocks that claimed countless lives. Australia was not circumnavigated by Europeans until 1642, and New Zealand not until 1770. Antarctica was first sighted in the early 19th century.

North America, Lake Conibaz and Saginaw

"Lake Conibaz and Saginaw. The water of this great lake is fresh and the bounds of it are unknown. Going there by boat, one arrives at the Kingdom of the Saginaw."

Curator's note:
The Great Lakes were not charted by Europeans until after Ricci's map, but the fictive Lake Conibaz, which briefly appeared on late 16th-century French and Dutch maps, hints at some knowledge of North America's large interior lakes. Although placed too far to the west, the area described appears to be Michigan.

North America, Labrador

"The general name of the region stretching from Labrador to the Land of Flowers [Florida] is Ka-na-t'o-erh, but every kingdom has its own name. The inhabitants are excellent; they are very kind to strangers who arrive from other lands. Generally they dress in furs and are fishermen by trade. Other inhabitants living in the mountains kill, fight, and rob one another all year round. They eat nothing but snakes, ants, spiders, and other similar things."

South America, Brazil

"The name Brazil means sapan wood. The inhabitants of this country do not build houses but dig holes in the earth to make caves to live in. They like to eat human flesh, but they only eat men, not women. They make clothes with the feathers of birds."

South America, Patagonia

"Patagonia, the Kingdom of Giants. The inhabitants of this country are not more than ten feet high. Both men and women paint their faces with every sort of color for decoration."

Diagram of the Nine Planets

Earth, Water
Air of the cold regions
[inside oval ring]
Air of the warm regions
[outside oval ring]
[flaming circular ring]
1st heaven,
that of the Moon, completes its revolution in 21 days and 31 half hours, turning from west to east.
2nd heaven,
that of Mercury, completes its revolution in 365 days and 23 half hours, turning from west to east.
3rd heaven,
that of Venus, completes its revolution in 365 days and 23 half hours, turning from west to east.
4th heaven,
that of the Sun, completes its revolution in 365 days and 23 half hours, turning from west to east.
5th heaven,
that of Mars, completes its revolution in one year, 321 days and 93 half hours, turning from west to east.
6th heaven,
that of Jupiter, completes its revolution in 11 years, 313 days and 70 half hours, turning from west to east.
7th heaven,
that of Saturn, completes its revolution in 29 years, 155 days and 25 half hours, turning from west to east.
8th heaven,
that of the 28 Constellations, completes its revolution in 49,000 years, turning from west to east.
9th heaven,
that without stars, that puts in motion the other eight heavens, completing its revolution in one day, turning from east to west.

Curator's note:
It was a Catholic cleric, a Pole named Nicholas Copernicus (1473-1543), who first published the revolutionary idea of a solar system, proposing in 1543 that the Earth and other planets orbited the Sun. Though commonplace today, Copernicus's theory would not find wide acceptance until the close of the 17th century. Ricci's map still shows the Earth at the center of the cosmos (see also his chart in the upper left margin illustrating the eclipses of the Moon and the Sun). First formulated in ancient Greece and described by Aristotle and Ptolemy, the geocentric (or Ptolemaic) model regarded the Earth as an unmoving, perfect sphere at the center of the universe. The Church embraced the Earth-centered model, zealously opposing the idea of a Sun-centered universe throughout the 17th century (and officially into the 19th century). Indeed, Giordano Bruno (1548-1600) was burned at the stake by the Inquisition in Rome for, among other heresies, his advocacy of the heliocentric model. In 1633, the Inquisition placed Galileo (1564-1642) under house arrest for the same reason

[For further translations of Ricci’s map, consult Lionel Giles’s partial translation in English (L. Giles, Geographic Journal, vol. 52, Dec. 1918: 367-385, and vol. 53, Jan. 1919: 19-30) and Kenneth Ch’en’s slightly more extensive translation, also in English (K. Ch’en Journal of the American Oriental Society, vol. 59, Sept. 1939: 325-359). The entire text of the map was translated into Italian by Pasquale d’Elia (see Il mappamondo cinese del p. Matteo Ricci, Città del Vaticano, Biblioteca apostolica Vaticana, 1938).]

The Ricci Map is owned by the James Ford Bell Trust, and has been loaned to the MIA.


Minneapolis Institute of Arts

18 maggio 2010