Revealing... The most expensive Chinese map in the world

Matteo Ricci was an Italian Jesuit priest who is celebrated for having introduced western science to China when he went there as a missionary.

Ricci settled in China, in what is now Beijing, and set about informing the Chinese about all that his European heritage had brought him. Not just his religion, or that and science, but the geography of the world as well, at the request of the Emperor Wanli.

The map, drawn in 1602, shows much of the world in surprising detail, notably in its depiction of the Americas, which the Chinese were not familiar with. Florida is mentioned as 'The Land of Flowers' and there is a brief mention of a little known region named Ka-na-ta.

Central and Southern America are also described, with references to 'Wa-ti-ma-la' and Chih-li (Guatemala and Chile).

Chinese report on the map's appearance in Washington

Ricci's map, at 3.6 x 1.5m is printed on six rolls of rice paper and is one of only two to survive in good condition. At $1m it became one of the most expensive maps ever sold when bought from British rare book collector Bernard J Shapiro.

Shapiro bought it relatively recently from a Japanese collector who'd held onto it for generations. The map had been exotically nicknamed 'the Impossible Black Tulip of Cartography' since it had proved so difficult for eager collectors to find.

The map was exhibited in the US Library of Congress in Washington, US earlier this year. Manuscript enthusiasts who missed it should still be able to see the map in detail, as it has been scanned in order to put it online.

 

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