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Bat of Minerva, Ann Waltner, August 15, 2010

Ann Waltner is a professor in both the Department of History and the Department of Asian Languages and Literatures and director of the Institute for Advanced Study. Her research interests lie in the social history of sixteenth and seventeenth century China, comparative women’s history, and world history. She recently finished a term as editor of the Journal of Asian Studies. Here, Waltner talks about Matteo Ricci’s Kunyu wanguo quantu, or Map of the Ten Thousand Countries of the Earth (1602), the oldest surviving Chinese map to show the Americas.


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A Jesuit priest, Matteo Ricci arrived in China in 1583 and, with fellow Jesuit Michele Ruggieri, established the first Christian mission. In 1597, Ricci was named Superior or head of the entire Jesuit missionary effort in China. His world map is a true collaboration between the European scholars of the Jesuit mission and the Chinese scholars of the imperial court. Vivid descriptions of the continents, praise of the Chinese emperor, lunar charts, and scientific tables documenting the movement of the planets adorn the map, a unique representation of East-West relations in the early 17th-century.

This example of the 1602 Ricci Map was purchased by the James Ford Bell Trust for the benefit of the James Ford Bell Library and is now on loan to the University of Minnesota. Recently exhibited at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts during the summer of 2010, the Ricci map, popularly called “The Impossible Black Tulip” because it is so rare, will be featured in an exhibition at the Bell Library, opening September 15, 2010: Matteo Ricci and the Jesuits in China. The map is a xylograph (wood block print) on six scrolls of fine native paper, each scroll measuring approximately 1820 x 3650 mm (each panel is approximately 2 feet by 5.75 feet).

The Ricci map is among six known complete examples of the 1602 printing; this is the only one in the United States. The six examples: Vatican Apostolic Library Collection I; Japan Kyoto University Collection; collection of Japan Miyagi Prefecture Library; Collection of the Library of the Japanese Cabinet; Paris, France (in private hands); James Ford Bell Trust (formerly in a private collection in Japan).

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