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

Matteo Ricci - Kunyu wanguo quantu (Complete map of all the nations of the world)
Click on the map above to explore selected texts from Matteo Ricci's 1602 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.

Click the links to view a detail and read more.

[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.

Related Event

Matteo Ricci's Great World Map of 1602

Saturday, June 12, 2010
2 – 3 p.m.

Pillsbury Auditorium

Lecturer: Daniel Crouch

London map expert, Daniel Crouch, will talk about Matteo Ricci's rare world map of 1602, celebrated as the "Impossible Black Tulip," because surviving copies are so rare. Printed in China, it represents the meeting of the East and West and is the oldest known Chinese map to include the Americas. A Jesuit priest, Ricci arrived in Macao in 1582 and is probably the first westerner to enter the Forbidden City. The map is a statement of what was known about the world at that time.

Recently acquired by the James Ford Bell Trust, the map is on view at the MIA through August 29. This lecture is co-presented by the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the Associates of the James Ford Bell Library, and the University of Minnesota Libraries.

Admission: $10, $5 museum members

reserve tickets online »