Ricci Map Derivative Found in a Garage Sells for $24,000

Two dark, torn illustrations found in the garage of a Palm Springs home and listed for sale as “two 19th century hand colored prints of the world” turned out to be something quite possibly a bit more significant. First identified as two panels (of six) from a 1708 Korean map, Kim Jin-yeo’s Gonyeomangukjeondo (곤여만국전도), which is a derivative of Matteo Ricci’s famous Kunyu Wanguo Quantu (aka the “Impossible Black Tulip”), the panels ended up selling earlier this month for $24,000; the buyer, map dealer Barry Ruderman, is restoring the map for sale and suspects that it may in fact be a 17th-century Chinese copy rather than a Korean map. Daily MailFine Books Magazine. [WMS]

Previously: China at the Center.

Has the Ricci Map Been Altered?


This Taipei Times article suggests that some copies of the Ricci map—Matteo Ricci’s 1602 map of the world produced for the Chinese emperor—have been altered, possibly to support (or at least not contradict) the present-day Chinese territorial claim to the Spratly Islands (and the nine-dash line). In particular, the article claims, the James Ford Bell Trust’s copy of the map has been altered:

Part of the legend reading “between the 15th and 42nd parallels” had been erased, with ocean patterns painted over the erasure. […] Whether this is a recent defacement done to obliterate evidence that China’s historical primacy in the South China Sea is a modern fiction, or an ancient one done to eliminate an error, is a subject for further research. […] Nonetheless, several other 16th century copies of the Ricci-Li map exist in Europe, South Korea and Japan, and all display the legend intact.

To be honest, the article isn’t so much making a case as it is casting some aspersions. It has an agenda: to shoot down the argument that China’s claims to the Spratly Islands are supported by the historical record. The Ricci map—like so many other maps caught up in territorial disputes and conspiracy theories—is simply a means to an end. [WMS/Leventhal Map Center]

The WSJ Reviews China at the Center

Ferdinand Verbiest, A Complete Map of the World, 1674. Ink on paper, eight scrolls, 217 × 54 cm. Library of Congress.

Here’s a review in the Wall Street Journal of the Asian Art Museum’s exhibition, China at the Center, which I’ve told you about before.

The show includes portraits of both as well as a half-dozen books to evoke the libraries each brought and the impact they had. Most helpful, however, are two large touchscreens, one for each map, that allow us to access translations and summaries of many of the texts. This quickly becomes addictive, because the journey is full of surprises. Here, we read about scientific theories or descriptions based on travelers’ accounts. There, we learn how best to capture a unicorn.


Previously: China at the CenterUpcoming Symposium: Reimagining the Globe and Cultural Exchange.

China at the Center

Two important seventeenth-century world maps are the focus of a new exhibition opening this Friday at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. China at the Center: Rare Ricci and Verbiest World Maps, which runs from 4 March to 8 May 2016, features Matteo Ricci’s 1602 map and Ferdinand Verbiest’s 1674 map.

Ricci (1552–1610) and Verbiest (1623–1688) were both Jesuit priests, in China to spread Christianity; their maps, produced in collaboration with Chinese calligraphers, artists and printers, produced a fundamental rethinking of China’s place in the world. Not that China wasn’t at the centre of these maps, as the essays in the accompanying catalogue point out, but these maps filled out the rest of the world, which was previously a marginal afterthought in Chinese cartography.

Continue reading “China at the Center”