Filippo Bencardino *


In the mid-second millennium, Asia in general and China in particular appeared to Westerners as lands which were still largely unexplored, unknown in their internal articulations and little understood even in their general outline, almost impenetrable and unreachable. So much so, in fact, that they were illustrated through recourse to mythology and classical sources, and were described as inhabited by monstrous peoples who themselves were responsible for making them impenetrable, despite the fact that explorations by Medieval travellers, missionaries and merchants had already reestablished a dialogue between West and East from as early as the thirteenth century, and which had remained uninterrupted for quite some time.

Developments in the relations between West and East were fostered, just after the fall of the Roman Empire, by the spread of Christianity. From the end of the Sassanian Empire, communities of Nestorian Christians (whose faith had spread from the eastern Mediterranean area up to China, as has been demonstrated by the many archaeological finds)1 were interposed between the two worlds, sometimes as an obstacle and sometimes as a bridge.

However, Ilkhanide Ghazan's conversion to Islam and, above all, the fourteenth century plague, which hit many Nestorian communities, weakened the religious movement and led to a halt in its territorial expansion and, later, to its defensive enclosure within isolated, difficult-to-reach centres, especially in central Asia and Mongolia. The upshot was a progressive conversion of many of the faithful to Islam, above all following the acts and deeds promoted by the Turkish-Mongol sovereign Timurlenk, called Tamerlane, and the Persian Shiites.

In the meantime, as is well known, the Mongol invasion of eastern Europe had forced Innocence IV [elected 1243-†1254] to start up diplomatic relations with the 'barbarians', one of the aims of which was to promote the spread of Catholicism amongst those peoples.

The events which followed are also rather well known: this new policy, which had also been ratified by the Council of Lyons in 1245, led to two diplomatic missions to the East, one of which was led by Giovanni da Pian del Carpine. He left Lyons in the same year (1245) and got as far as Karakorum, in Mongolia. His diplomatic and religious mission was, however, not as successful as had been hoped, as Kuyuk Khan [r.1246-†1248] requested a formal act of submission from the Pope as a prerequisite to any future diplomatic relations. The experience, albeit a failure in religious and political terms, had important consequences in terms of the West's knowledge about the East. In his Historia Mongolorum [...] (History of Mongolia [...]) (which has recently been republished in Italian), Giovanni da Pian del Carpine, in fact, talked about his experiences during the voyage. 2

This diplomatic mission was followed by other exploratory missions initiated by King Louis IX [° 1214-r. 1226-†1270] of France and Pope Innocent IV [elected 1243-†1254]. Of these, those led by Nicola Ascelin, Lourenço de Portugal, Andrea de Longjumeau, William of Ruabruck, Simon de St. Quentin, and Guy and Jean de Carcassone are worthy thy of note. Merchants were quick to follow in their footsteps, and these merchants were the first to gain access to the internal areas of the continent.

Of all the predominantly mercantile voyages that characterised the period, the most important were those undertaken by Marco Polo [°ca1254-†1324]. His travels marked a turning point in our understanding of the East, above all after news spread about the welcome the Venetian traveller had received at the Mongol Court. It was this news that brought about new religious missions, such as that of Giovanni da Montecorvino (1278), and the founding of an archbishopric in Cambaluc [presently, Beijing], which was then the capital of China. The role played by Odorico da Pordenone was also important - he was the author of the important work entitled Descriptio orientalium partium (A Description of Regions of the Orient) -,as was that of Giovanni de' Marignolli and missionaries who, even though they left no written records, helped provide oral information on the geographical and, in a broader sense, cultural aspects of the Eastern lands.

The Polo family, as is well known, owned stalls and warehouses in the main commercial centres of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea. In 1261, the two brothers Nicolò and Matteo set off from Soldaia [presently, Sudak], in Krymskaya [presently, Crimea], for the Asian interior with the aim of intercepting important wares which were destined for the Mediterranean coasts. They spent the next three years on the low waters of the River Zeravshan at Bukhara, a large commercial centre in current Uzbekistan, and then moved east when they joined a Mongol mission and crossed the heart of Asia.

The Polo brothers spent eight years in the East before they returned to Venice with a missive from the Great Khan to the Pope, in which he requested that a group of experts be sent to China with whose help the two countries' religions could be compared. Two years after their return to Venice, they set off again for the East, this time accompanied by Nicolò's fifteen-year-old son, Marco, who had lost his mother.

From Lajazzo, near current Iskenderun, on the southern coast of Turkey, they travelled via Anatolia to Trabzon, on the Black Sea coast, and thence, through Armenia, to Tabriz. They then went south towards the Strait of Hormuz, then moved northwards until they reached Kermān and Kashgar. Their next itinerary, through rugged mountainous regions (such as Hindukush and Pamirs) and desert, or paradesert, regions, led them the Yellow River valley and eventually once again to Cambaluc.

The voyage, which was mainly exploratory in nature, took more than three and a half years, and had taken them through territories that were completely unheard of in the West. However, once they arrived in Cambaluc, Marco left his two bothers to their business interests and began to quench his thirst for knowledge, which was to lead him to travel across the entire breadth of China and earn him Kublai Khan's admiration as an astute observer of the country. Kublai Khan was so impressed, in fact, that he gave him missions that would take him to many areas of the Empire and even to Burma [presently, Myanmar] and perhaps even India.

After seventeen years in China, Marco Polo returned to Venice with a wealth of experience and important information which allowed him to dictate his Le Meraviglie del Mondo (The Marvels of the World), better known as 'Il Milione' ('The Million'), to his cell-mate Rustichello da Pisa in 1298. This book was to shed new light and offer new perspectives on the knowledge and cartographic representations of China for the next two hundred years.

There is, however, no extant written record of the travels and sojourn in China, which at that time was under Mongol rule, of the Genovese Andalò di Savignone, who must have spent quite a deal of time in that country as a merchant as well as some time in the Great Khan's residence before returning to the West on a mission for the Great Khan himself.

Shortly afterwards, in 1368, the ascent of the Ming dynasty [1368-1644], who had overthrown the Mongol Yuan [1279-1368], was to lead to the re-establishing of traditional institutions and order in China and the elimination of any trace left by the preceding dynasty. With the affirmation of nationalism, this also led to the outlawing of Christianity, which had been tolerated under the preceding dynasty. A new period of closure in the relations between West and East ensued; commercial relations were interrupted and the missions, which were now much less secure, weakened. The papal seat of Cambaluc, which Pope Urban V [elected 1362-†1370] had assigned in 1370 to Guillaume del Prato of Paris, subsequently assumed a purely nominal character. The dismembering of the Mongol empire and the subsequent internecine struggles, along with the advance of the Ottomans, contributed to ever more sporadic relations between Europe and China.

In this period, commercial relations between West and East were possible, for Europeans, only via Egypt and the Red Sea, but even these were hindered by the Sultans, whose aim was to consolidate the economic benefits that the political context guaranteed their countries. In fact, this interruption of direct contact with central and Eastern Asia was to last to the end of the fifteenth century. As a consequence the period saw very little gains made in the information available on eastern Asia, despite the fact that attempts to penetrate the region were not completely abandoned.

There was a renewed interested in those distant countries in the fifteenth century with Nicolò de' Conti's travels. De' Conti left Damascus in 1414, crossed Mesopotamia and reached India, Burma, Jawa, Borneo and Indochina, leaving us the legacy of his adventures in the form of Gian Francesco Poggio Bracciolini's [°1380-†1459] Historia de varietate fortunae (A History of Diverse Fortunes).

It was not until the beginning of the sixteenth century that the East once more opened up to more consistent contacts with Europe thanks to the travels of Ludovico di Varthema (1502-1508) and the exploits of Afonso d'Albuquerque [°1453-†1515], who, in 1511, extended Portuguese hegemony over the eastern seas and the countries of the area.

Until then, despite the popular nature of 'Il Milione' and works of Medieval erudition, the cartographic concept of the East was to remain vague, and knowledge of Asia imprecise and limited - so much so, in fact, that the borders of the continent were often made to coincide with the Holy Land.

After all, Medieval travels and the literary works they provoked were not commonly known, and were circulated almost exclusively within ecclesiastical circles and the French Court. Only in part, therefore, did these works turn out to be new instruments in bringing classical knowledge up to date. Fantastical, imaginative works, such as Jean de Mandeville's [ °ca 1300-†1372] Voyages [...] (Travels [...]), were much more popular, however, because they were more consonant with the culture and traditionalism of medieval science, which was dominated by Ptolemaic conceptions and those of the Church Fathers.

Knowledge gleaned by merchants had a much vaster impact and was more widespread. Their information, much more practical in nature, was much more readily acquired by cartographers who transformed it into graphic representations in the form of nautical maps. It was for this same reason that works like Francesco Balducci Pegolotti's Pratica della Mercatura (A Traders 'Manual) were very popular. The work in question was a guide book, compiled in 1340, and was aimed at Europeans trading with Asia. In this work the author described the caravan routes, coins, measures and commercial products of countries that went from Egypt to Cathay. Equally popular was Marino Sanuto the Elder's [° 1466-†1531] Liber Secretorum Fidelium [Sanctae] Crucis, where the moral, political and economic conditions of the Eastern Muslim states were described for European princes.

Between the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, however, the classical authors were still the main source for geographical knowledge on the East, as is confirmed not only by the descriptive works, but above all by the cartography of the period, which only rarely used new information because of the tendency of European courts to keep many of the results of exploratory travels secret, for economic and political reasons. All of this took place within the framework of the decadence of Medieval (and especially Late Medieval) geographical culture.

The main cultural centres had for a long time been the monasteries, where natural science studies had been limited if compared to the prevalently abstract, philosophical, moral and religious speculations.What St. Basil says in his Comment to the Exaemeron is exemplary: "What does it matter to know if the Earth is a sphere, a cylinder, a disc or a curved surface? What matters is knowing how I should behave towards myself, towards other men, towards God."3

And so, for questions concerning cosmology and geography, the Sacred Scriptures remained the main source, and the spherical nature of the earth, the existence of the antipodes and the inhabitability of the torrid zone were all denied.

Scientific cartography, which had nonetheless previously made decisive gains with the ancient Greeks, went backwards in no uncertain terms in this period: the reference system of co-ordinates disappeared, the relationships between surfaces became unreal, as did the distance between different points. This was due to the fact that the aim of the Medieval map was not to represent the real, graphically illustrate the known world or make new acquisitions known, but to reflect theologicalphilosophical speculations through, for example, the representation of the 'terrestrial paradise' or the fact that East had to be at the top of maps.


Only very gradually did culture abandon the monasteries and free itself of mystical-religious constraints. Then world maps, which were the main cartographic product up to the sixteenth century, became less schematic and richer in scroll motifs as well as in contents. It was not until the opening decades of the fourteenth century, however, that the results could be felt of the first missionary and mercantile travels, by Giovanni da Pian del Carpine, William of Rubruck and above all Marco Polo, in cartographic products from the Catalan school, in Florentine and Genovese maps and, much more concretely in the fifteenth century, in Fra Mauro's [active: fifteenth century] 'World Map' [hereafter: 'Fra Mauro's World Map'].

In pre-Marco Polo cartography, in fact, Far-Eastern Asia, if it was present at all, was depicted according to fantastical elements. In the 'Hereford World Map', dated to the end of the thirteenth century, Asia is divided into four large regions - Northern ("Scythia"), Far-Eastern ("India"), Southern("Asia ulterior"- including Nubia and Egypt) and Western ("Asia citerior" or Asia minor). There is still no sign of China; only the "Seres", inhabitants of the land of silk, are shown on the map and placed in "Scythia", while in the other important world map of the thirteenth century, called the 'Ebstorf Map', the same population is placed alongside the terrestrial paradise.

It is only in the following century that changes can be detected, and most obviously in Fra Paolino Minorita's 'World Map'(hereafter: 'Fra Paolino Minorita's World Map') - drawn up as an annex to the little geographic treatise entitled De Mapa Mundi cum trifaria orbis divisione (The Map of the World with a Tripartite Divison of the World), ca 1320 - which was later used by Marin Sanudo to illustrate a plan for a crusade to Pope John XXII [elected 1316-†1334]. 4 Thanks to this example, we can easily see how the planisphere is now enriched with new elements and, albeit not devoid of traditional elements, it expresses modernity through the absence of fantastical elements such as the reference to a terrestrial paradise. We have, for the first time, indications on Cathay and the Great Khan: "incipit regnum cathay" and "hic stat magnus Canis". In other words, we begin to see the first effects of the influence of Marco Polo, and these were to become a staple of European cartography until the end of the seventeenth century.

There are also indications taken from 'Il Milione' towards the end of the fourteenth century in Catalan cartographic productions, amongst which the one put together by the Majorcan Iafuda or Abraham Cresques (ca 1375) is worthy of note. In this work, not only are the toponymy and legends inspired by Marco Polo, but a few passages have been taken directly from his text and inserted in the map as captions.

As is well known, the work was commissioned by King Peter IV of Aragon [°ca 1319-r.1336-†1387] for Charles V of France [°1338-r.1364-†1380] and is held in the Bibliothèque Nationale de Paris (Paris National Library) in Paris, and is variously referred to as the 'Catalan World Map', the 'Charles V World Map'and the 'Paris World Map'or 'Paris World Atlas '. In this map, alongside a more accurate representation of the Indian and Arabic peninsulas, we are also given indications of Cathay with its southern provinces, names of cities, regions, rivers and islands - all of which hark back to 'Il Milione'.

For the first time, the 'Catalan World Map' contains a representation of the entirety of Asia in four of the total number of twelve plates that make up the work, and again, along with the classical elements, there are also modem ones that have been taken from the Marco Polo source as well as from Arab experience, mediated by the Jews who were then present in large numbers in the Iberian peninsula.

It was mainly portolans (i. e., navigational maps) that developed most in this period, above all because its practical applications meant that it acquired new knowledge much more quickly. Portolans thus became, in their turn, the source for innovative information for geographical cartography.

Pietro Vesconte [active: late twelveth century-early thirteenth century], in fact (and in an earlier period) added elements taken from nautical geography to his 'Mappa mundi' [hereafter: 'Pietro Visconti's World Map '], an intuitive gesture which was later developed by the Catalans. Map production, which in this period drew from portolans as well as 'Il Milione' for its representation of Eastern Asia, thus became more consistent and gave us, amongst others, maps by Albertin de Virga (Venice, 1411-1415), by an anonymous Catalan cartographer (ca1450), by Andreas Walsperger (1448), by Giovanni Leardo (in the 1453 edition), by Francesco Rosselli, Enrico Martello (1490) and Martin Behaim- these latter are the only examples of non-Ptolemaic world maps from the fifteenth century which also provide latitude -, and finally by an anonymous cartographer in 1457, who produced a map which is also known as the 'Genovese World Map' because the arms of the Republic of Genoa are displayed in the upper left-hand comer and the Republic's possessions are proudly underscored.

With North at the top of the map and the then-known ecumene surrounded by sea, the 'Genovese World Map' provided an accurately-drawn Asia, even though it was abnormally extended towards the east in keeping with Ptolemaic tradition. It includes "Cathay" and a figure indicated as "Rex Cambalich, hic est Magnus Canis ". As is known, this document had been erroneously identified with Paolo Dal Pozzo Toscanelli's portolano [hereafter: 'Paolo Dal Pozzo Toscanelli's Portolano '] and thus became extremely familiar to scholars of Cristoforo Colombo [Christopher Columbus - °1451-†1506] historiography.

Reference to the Classical and Medieval tradition was not entirely abandoned in this period, as can also be evinced from the anonymous 'Borgian World Map', dated to about 1430, where recourse is still obviously being made to legends such as that of Gog and Magog and the representation of the 'terrestrial paradise'. But maps began to ever more decidedly eschew fantastic and unreal elements.

There is a marked step in this direction in the already-cited by 'Fra Mauro's World Map', which constituted a transition from Medieval to Renaissance cartography. The sources are to be found in the experiences of travellers and nautical cartography as well as in classical sources, which is, after all, what had already happened in the realisation of other representations. But the real novelty was the fact that Fra Mauro considered the former sources to be much more reliable than the latter.

'Fra Mauro's World Map', with South at the top of the map, represents the three parts of the then-known ecumene - Europe, Africa and Asia. Asia is given a much larger area than the other parts, and occupies the space between 45° and 208° longitude and 11° and 77° boreal latitude. To the East we have "Cataio ", made up of the seven Northern provinces of China. There are numerous explanatory scrolls, the profiles of continents and their relative position are well drawn, and the only elements present are of a geographical nature: mountains, roads, rivers, seas, ports and views of cities.

In 'Fra Mauro's World Map' - a synthesis of the knowledge available at the time - China seems less fantastical and unattainable; and the design technique itself, albeit drawing from the technique used in fourteenth century mappae mundi, has lost the roughness of Medieval cartography.


At the beginning of the sixteenth century, more evident progress was made in the field of geographic cartography. This was favoured by different factors, such as the general developments in the scientific, artistic, technical and economic fields, which, along with the invention of movable print and readier investments by printers and patrons, led to a greater production and propagation of the cartographic product. But above all there was a newer knowledge brought about by important discoveries thanks to the exploratory voyages undertaken by Cristoforo Colombo [Christopher Columbus], Americo Vespucci [°1454-†1512], Fernão de Magalhães [Ferdinand Magellan - °ca 1480-†1521], Bartolomeu Dias [°14??-†1500] and da Vasco da Gama [°ca1469-†1524]. A critical rereading of the classical sources was yet another element that contributed to the creation of a favourable context which made of the sixteenth century the Golden Age of cartography.

This new approach to the classical sources led to a rediscovery of Ptolemy [°330-r.305-†284BC], who had been introduced to the West by the Arabs, in terms of the Almagest (but this had really taken place many centuries earlier), and by the Byzantines, in terms of the Geography and the maps. This was extremely important as this knowledge re-introduced mathematical and geometric systems of representation (which had been known to the Greeks) into Western cartography. In terms of the outline of Asia, what is more, the Alexandrine astronomer's work was of fundamental importance in that it provided for a more realistic configuration of that part of the known world. 5

In the Islamic world, geographical culture, unlike its Western counterpart, had been particularly lively during the Medieval period. Between the eighth and ninth centuries, Arabs had certainly got as far as the South-Eastern and Eastern coasts of Asia, going as far as the ports of Southern China, thus bringing about the flourishing of a rich geographical and descriptive literature thanks to people such as al-Istahkri [Abu Ishaq al-Farisi], al-Idrisi [Abu 'Abdallah al-Sharif'-°ca 1099-†ca1165/1168], Ibn Khurdadhbih [Abu al-Qasim - active: tenth century], al-Masudi [°???-†947] and Ibn Battutah [Abu Abdallah al-Luwati al-Tanghi - °1304-†1377], amongst others. 6

Al-Masudi [active: tenth century] was a traveller who had gone as far as the China Sea and wrote a work (Meadows of Golden and Precious Stone Mines) in which he gave a resume of his trips but also information collated or gleaned from his reading of different texts. Ibn Khurdadhbih, in his Kitab al-Masalik w 'al-Mamalik (Book of Roads and Provinces), gives us an outline of the commercial relations that at that time were centred in Baghdad. Al-Idrisi, commissioned by Roger II [King of Sicily - °1095-r. (as Duke)1113-(as King) 1130-†1154], wrote The Diversions of Travellers, a book which was unknown to Westerners but which nonetheless represented a summa of the geographical knowledge of the then-current Islamic world. In the fourteenth century, Ibn Battutah, an Arab from Tangiers, spent twenty-four years travelling across the seas of southern and eastern Asia, and even landed in China and travelled through inland areas.

None of this, unfortunately, contributed to progress in European geographic and cartographic knowledge. It did, however, lead to translations into Arabic of many classical texts, amongst which Ptolemy's, which was used for practical purposes as many of the co-ordinates for locations known to the Arabs had been reviewed and corrected in the work.

In Italy Ptolemy's geographical work was introduced, as is well known, by the Byzantine Emanuel Crisolora [°ca1350-†1415] of Constantinople, who had been sent to Venice between 1394 and 1395 by the Eastern Emperor in order to ask for assistance against the Turks. The humanist Coluccio Piero da Salutati [°1331-†1406] took advantage of his presence in the city to introduce the study of Greek and invited his student Iacopo Angelo to strike up a relationship with Emmanuel Crisolora who, after a brief return to Constantinople, returned to Venice with a copy of Ptolemy's Geography, which he began to translate. The work was finished by Iacopo Angelo in 1406 and nine years later, in 1415, Francesco di Lapicino and Lionardo Boninsegni drew up the maps, which were provided as an addendum to the manuscript by Iacopo Angelo, who had died a few years before (in 1409).

The invention of printing favoured vaster knowledge of the Geography. A first printed edition appeared as early as 1475 in Vicenza, under the title of Cosmographia [...] (Cosmography [...]), without the maps, which were later added to the edition published in Bologna in 1477. The maps consisted of twenty-six tables (instead of the twenty-seven in the Ptolemaic codices), of which eleven were dedicated to Asia. Of these, Table Twenty-Two was dedicated to "Scitia extra Imaus M. - Serica Regio " and Table Twenty-Five to "India extra Gangem. F. - Sina Regio ".

These early editions were followed by many others, in Latin and Italian, both in Italy and abroad, with cartographic apparatuses that grew all the larger as the inadequacies of the maps began to become obvious (especially in those maps that covered areas that had become of interest to new explorers).

Thus, in the Florentine edition of 1482 by Francesco Berlinghieri, four maps were already added to the twenty-seven that had originally made up the Ptolemaic codex ("Spania novella" ("New Spain "), "Gallia novella" ("New Gaul"), "Novella Italia" ("New Italy") and "Palestina moderna et Terra sancta" ("Modern Palestine and Holy Land")), which then became five in the Ulma edition of 1486, where the tabulae on Asia had risen overall to thirteen. The 1507 Rome edition even had a planisphere put together by Johannes Ruysch (Universalior cogniti orbis tabula ex recentibus confecta observationibus), with the addition of new elements pertaining to the Atlantic and Southern and Eastern Asia derived from exploratory voyages. A modern world map also appeared as an addendum to the twenty-seven traditional Ptolemaic maps in the Liber Geographie published in Venice for "Jacobum Pentium de Leucho" in 1511.

The "tabulae novae" ("new tables") then became twenty in the 1513 and 1520 Strasbourg editions; they became twenty-three in 1522 and 1525, where as many as five were dedicated to Asia, amongst which a "Tabula Moderna Indiae Orientalis" ("Modern Table of Oriental India "), a "Tabula Superioris Indiae et Tartariae Maioris" ("Table of Upper India and Meridional Tartary") and a 'World Map' by Lorenzo Frisio [hereafter: 'Lorenzo Frisio's World Map']; while the twenty-six Ptolemaic maps (sans planisphere) were decked out with thirty-four designed by Giacomo Gastaldi in the 1548 Venetian edition, where the number of new maps dedicated to Asia had risen to seven, amongst which one on "India Tercera Nova Tabula" ("New Table of Terciary India ").

In the 1540 Basel edition, edited by Sebastian Münster [°1489-†1552], twenty-one of the overall forty-eight maps were modern, which were characterised by an almost total abandoning of the fantastical elements and by indicating the sources from which the new additions had been culled. Of the sixty tables in the already-cited 1548 Venetian edition, to Giacomo Gastaldi's maps (the text is Sebastian Münster's) were added two new world maps that replaced Ptolemy's. Finally, there were thirty-seven "recentiores" ("updates"), all engraved by Girolamo Porro, in a 1596 edition published, yet again, in Venice, eight of which on Asia, and one particularly on "India Orientalis" ("Oriental India").

The Ptolemaic maps led to the first corrections of the preceding representations of Asia, such as those, for example, on the Indian Ocean, which was no longer represented as a closed sea. But it was above all the exploratory voyages that, by broadening the Ptolemaic horizons, introduced further novel elements to cartography once the science had begun to accommodate these novelties more immediately. However, the contrast between the old and the new persevered throughout the first half of the sixteenth century, the fantastical elements never completely disappeared, and the main sources for cartographic representations of China were still those of Marco Polo and the Medieval travellers.

This is all abundantly clear when one analyses Italian cartographic production, which in that period was the most renowned in Europe, and in particular the world maps by Contarini-Roselli (or Rosselli, 1506), by Nicolò Caveri (1505-1506) [hereafter: 'Caveri's World Map'], by Pietro Coppo (1520), by Giovan Andrea Vavassore (1522), by Battista Agnese, of whose rich production (sixty-five extant atlases!) those that are more important to the current paper were produced after ca 1540, and also by Giacomo Gastaldi, the most important figure in the sixteenth century and author of the first original map of the Asian continent [hereafter: 'Gastaldi's Map of Asia ']. 7 These works can be profitably compared with those by the German Petrus Apianus (1520), the Frenchman Fineo (1531) and various other European authors.

The 'World Map' prototype put about by Battista Agnese [hereafter: 'Battista Agnese's World Map'] doubtless contains modem, 'updated' elements, including a representation of the most recent geographical discoveries and the route followed by Ferdinand Magellan. But for far-Eastern Asia there was only very limited progress, and the overall image was still vague and uncertain. Asia is cut off from Europe by a mountainous range extending North-South, beyond which, towards the East, is positioned "Cathay" and, towards the South, a "Sinarum Situs"("Territory of China"); beyond the continental mass there are numerous little islands. But in preceding planispheres (1542 and 1543) the toponym "China " had been placed in the vicinity of coastal Burma [presently, Myanmar].

Even Giovan Andrea Vavassore's planisphere is not substantially different from other fifteenth and sixteenth century world maps, even though it introduces significant changes to Ptolemaic design, suggested by the knowledge gleaned by contemporary travellers. As for Asia, the Ptolemaic vision is enlarged by about ten degrees northwards and five degrees southwards, so as to included the Northern and Southern coasts of China along with the "lava Minor" ("Minor Jawa"), "Iava Maior" ("Major Jawa ") and "Zumpagu" islands; Africa, what is more, is separated from Asia. In Eastern Asia, to design which Andrea Vavassore used Silvano, we have a "Sinus Magnus" ("Major China ") and various toponyms which hark back to Marco Polo's works and those of other Medieval travellers.

In Pietro Coppo we also find that new knowledge was simply added to older theories. The two planispheres and the four tables dealing with Asia, which are part of the cartography of the De toto Orbe[lit: of all the Word], do not provide any new details for China, about which Pietro Coppo says not much is known because of its vast size. What is important, though, is that habitable space is extended from Ptolemy's 180° longitude to 270°, as a direct result of the discovery of the Americas. In the Southern Hemisphere he gives a large "Oceanus meridionalis" ("Meridonal Ocean "), with two large fantastical islands, thus demonstrating that he knew little or nothing about the reports that had come from Portuguese travellers. 8

Much more interesting in the same period is the cartographic work of Giacomo Gastaldi, originally from Piedmont, but who worked in Venice even though without any official duties. In Venice he was thus able to strike up direct contact with Giovanni Battista Ramusio [° 1485-†1557], with whom he certainly collaborated, and consulted the Delle navigationi et viaggi [...] (Sea Routes and Travels [...]), and particularly the second volume on Asia, which included Marco Polo's travels which he used as a source for the design of his maps. It is to Giacomo Gastaldi, in fact, that we owe the construction or etchings for all the maps from this important work. Apart from the two world maps, Giacomo Gastaldi was also the author of the wall map of Asia, drawn in 1552 in the Sala dello Scudo (Hall of the Shield) at Palazzo Ducale (Ducal Palace), in Venice, which replaced the map that had been destroyed in 1483. The map included the most recent discoveries as well as Marco Polo's itineraries. 9

But here it is perhaps more important to remember him for his 'Map of Asia' [hereafter: 'Gastaldo's Map of Asia '] in three parts and six sheets, positioned with North at the tope of the map, etched on copper by Fabio Licinio and published in Venice between 1559 and 1561. The "Terza parte dell 'Asia " ("Third Part of Asia "), centred on the Eastern section and printed in 1561, gives the continent (only the southernmost area is excluded, which is precisely the area about which information was extremely scarce) framed within a longitude and latitude grid, with a very rich array of toponyms mainly derived from Marco Polo's 'Il Milione'.


The exploratory voyages undertaken by the Portuguese in Southeast Asia in the sixteenth century led to a partial abandoning of the Marco Polo sources. The effects can be seen in many contemporary (Italian and non-Italian) geographical maps, making the contrast between the old systems of representation and the new reality which was slowly emerging all the starker.

After making peace with the Crown of Castile in 1411, Portugal, with the definitive granting of independence, embarked on a policy of foreign expansion. This led Portugal first of all towards the western coast of Africa, and then towards eastern Asia, according to a plan devised by Prince Henrique (o Navegador) Henry (the Navigator) [°1394-†1460], who as early as 1456 had successfully asked Pope Callistus III [elected 1455-†1458] to grant the spiritual jurisdiction of the Order of Christ over all the lands discovered, and yet to be discovered, "usque ad Indos" ("as far as the Indies). The expansionistic policy was more commercial than territorial in nature, and gave the Portuguse Crown sole Padroado rights [to confer ecclesiastic priviliges and appoint members of the clergy to church posts in its Orient possessions], that is vast jurisdiction and authority (including religious authority) over those lands which had been conquered and which became the object of their missions. 10

After the explorations along Western Africa and Bartlomeo Dias' and Vasco da Gama's expeditions, it was with Afonso de Albuquerque that the Portuguese empire in the Indian Ocean was consolidated early in the sixteenth century. The conquest of Malacca [presently, Melaka] [in 1511] guaranteed Portuguese domination until the arrival of the Dutch, who in the following century were to conquer Maluku (1605-1607) and then Malacca (1641).

Jorge Álvares (1513), Rafael Perestrelo (1515-1518), Fernão Peres d' Andrade (1517-1518) and Tomé Pires (1520-1521) were responsible, in fact, for the first concrete attempts at gaining a foothold on Chinese soil. These attempts, even though they were only partly successful, nonetheless led to the granting of permission to open a commercial emporium in the "Ilha da veniaga" (lit.: "Island of trade"), as the Portuguese called the "Straits of Canton" [i. e., Zhujiang· or Pearl River estuary].

As a result of these Portuguese voyages, we are afforded our first glimpse of the Indian Ocean, the shape of the coastal areas of Southeast Asia and the existence of an archipelago called "Liu-qiu" [Chin.: "Liuqiu",· or Jap.:"Ryu-Kyu"] between China and Japan as well as maps the travellers drew up 'from memory', that is sorts of 'mental maps' whose aim was to immediately fix the results of new discoveries. These maps were to be very influential for Italian and European cartography in the sixteenth century. These influences can be clearly seen, for example, in the world maps by Martin Waldseemüller [active: sixteenth century], Nicolò Caveri and Johannes Ruysch, even though they were almost completely ignored by other cartographers.

Before Jorge Álvares arrived in Guangzhou in 1513, the Far East and China could not be drawn without recourse to fantastical elements or Marco Polo's chronicles. After Jorge Álvares, at least as far as the coastal features are concerned, representations become much more realistic, even though there are still some gaps and approximations.

The first attempt to abandon Ptolemy and take inspiration from the results obtained by Portuguese explorers was made by the anonymous author of the so-called 'Cantino's Planisphere',dated 1502, that is after Bartolomeu Dias' and Vasco da Gama's explorations.

Obvious progress has been made here if compared to the world maps by Henricus Martellus [ °ca 1459-†1507] (ca 1490) [hereafter: 'Martellus' World Map' ] or Martin Behaim (1494, but probably drawn a couple of years previously) [hereafter: 'Behaim's World Map']. In the former, use of Portuguese maps gives more appreciable results in terms of the way the Western part of the world is drawn. As far as the East is specifically concerned, however, the 'Cantino Planisphere' introduces a series of representations according to which the Malay Peninsula is the Western limit of a "Sinus magnus" ('Major China"), that is of a large gulf with the sea that was thought to be off the Chinese coast. The area is given the name of "India Orientalis" ("Oriental India"), and "Mangi" and the city of "Quinsay" ("Guangzhou") are placed in its Eastern section, while "Cathaio" ("Cathay") is further North. In 'Behaim's World Map', Eastern Asia, even though there are some elements which are drawn more accurately than in the 'Martellus' World Map', especially in terms of the coastal area, the results are not appreciable, thus demonstrating the uncertainty that reigned in Europe during the period of Christopher Columbus in terms of Eastern Asian geography.

In the 'Cantino's Planisphere', however, the form of Africa and the Indian peninsula assume a slightly more realistic shape, but the Far-Eastern section is like a compact mass, with the island of Sumatra [presently, Sumatera] separated off at its Western end. Singapore is placed at a latitude of about 20° South, and the Eastern coast rises virtually uniformly up to "quiritiria", a toponym whose origins are unknown.

Attempts made by the Genovese Nicolò Caveri were no more successful. 'Caveri's World Map', undated yet traceable to about 1505-1506, is based on 'Cantino's Planisphere', and is even more prone to error. The toponym "quiritiria" is also present here along with a description of its products, and it is placed in "India superior"("Upper India "), to which, according to classical geography, China was presumed to belonged.

Even the undated (even though it can be dated to about 1510) Portuguese 'Egerton's Atlas', a collection of pilot books which also include a world map, held in the British Library, Department of Manuscripts, is extremely wanting in terms of its representation of Eastern Asia. Even though some progress has been made in terms of the Indian peninsula and the Gulf of Bengal, the areas East of Sumatra is very sketchy indeed. The Malay peninsula is elongated to the South of the Equator and is indicated with a name of Ptolemaic influence; Burma and Tonkin are represented, but China is in fact completely ignored and given only with the toponym "chigirina". Nor is there any the more information in the so-called 'Miller's Atlas', originally attributed to Pedro Reinel [active: sixteenth century]and then to Lobo Homem [active: sixteenth century] and datable to about 1519-1522, which contains a beautiful miniature of scarce geographical value and certainly demonstrates more a return to Ptolemy than any real scientific progress. Equally lacking is the anonymous 'Munich's World Map', attributable to Pedro Reinel and dated to 1522. Even though the drawing of the Malay peninsula is acceptable, despite the fact that "Singapura" ("Singapore") is placed at a latitude of 25° South, the map makes no reference to the gulfs of the South China Sea, and the Eastern coast is fantastical in its being made to end in an enormous gulf and an island called "Chis", which in fact is "Japan".

Up to the middle of the sixteenth century, therefore, Portuguese cartography (and the cartography that derived from it) did not use to the full the knowledge culled from the exploratory travels in Eastern Asia, perhaps because, for economic and strategic reasons linked with the diplomatic struggle to delimit the 'raya' {'boundary'or 'frontier '}, that is the precise definition of the Spanish and Portuguese spheres of influence, the new scientific acquisitions were not always adequately publicly communicated, and were sometimes even purposefully altered.

The form of the continental mass was still rather roughly hewn, the islands given in fantastical and changeable forms, and China drawn generically and rather unreliably.

In the second half of the sixteenth century, geographic discoveries nonetheless led to a gradual yet irrevocable withering away of the Ptolemaic tradition and to a greater attention being paid to modem cartography, and particularly nautical cartography. Giovanni Battista Ramusio wrote at the time that, once the maps that João de Barros [°1496 - †1570] said he could produce became available, the geography of Asia would be completely renewed.

But it was not until the new century that Asia was 'really' discovered, and only then did the Marco Polo sources lose their authority.


In the meantime, the compiling of atlases, which began to take form towards the end of the sixteenth century, allowed for the collation and systematic revision of the cartographic material then available. "The atlas, that is a rationally organised collection of geographical maps, usually small scale and co-ordinated in advance, seems to me to be the most meaningful and faithful documentation of the progressive knowledge of peoples and countries. But, apart from the well-defined limits of scientific necessity and the representational techniques of the discipline of cartography, the atlas becomes the distinguishing historical mark of the political vitality of the people who realise it, as it projects a plurality of interests and practically extends these to the entire surface of the Earth. In terms of a more elevated concept, we might say that the atlas is linked to specific historical phases in the life of humanity. In fact, the established political and administrative grandeur of Rome is revealed through its compiling of the Ptolemaic atlas; the political and administrative grandeur of the Empire of Charles V - an Empire on which the sun never set! - is revealed through the first collections of maps and the subsequent realisation of the 'Ortelian's Atlas'. But, in both cases, we should add the cultural maturing of the stimulus for an ever vaster and exhaustive scientific knowledge, unleashed in the classical period of Helenism and, in the sixteenth century, by the Renaissance, in which the entirety of central and Western, Catholic and Protestant Europe consciously participated. It is not by accident that, in this very period, there was a collaboration that led to the compilation of some extremely important regional texts, such as Sebastian Münster's Cosmographia Universalis.

As the geographic atlas is also a product of ferment that 'raises' humanity, it becomes, in its genre, an explicit measure of the intellectual (and not only regionalistic) conquest of the Earth by man."11

Even though there is not always a sufficiently critical spirit, as sometimes editorial and cultural interests in the broader sense prevail over the rigorous procedures that would be proper to the practical and operative aims of the portolans, editorial work on the atlas nonetheless offered an opportunity to compare different cartographic material able to highlight differences and problems that were as yet unresolved. This comparison, for example, allowed for an evaluation of how different authors give variant forms, dimensions and contents to China, making the search for new sources necessary.

If we exclude Lafreri's artificial collection, the first Modem atlas, edited by Abraham Ortelius [Abraham Oertel - ° 1527-† 1598] under the title of Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, appeared in 1570 in Antwerp. This atlas also marked the shift in cartographic production from Italy to the Netherlands.

Overseas expansion had moved the economic focal point from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea, to the port cities located at the mouths of the great fluvial axes that linked the ocean with continental Europe. With maritime and territorial expansion and the intensification of economic-commercial relations between the countries of the Atlantic and the Pacific, attention had grown for cartography, particularly in Holland, acountry that was ready to project its interests towards the East Indies and was, over the next few decades, to gain control over Portugal's spice commerce.

The economic and political crisis was followed in Italy by a cultural crisis, just as Haarlem, The Hague, Amsterdam and Antwerp were also emerging as editorial centres (Antwerp in particular began to come to the fore after the burial of Zwim and after the separation of the Northern, Protestant provinces from Catholic Belgium and the formation of an independent Holland).

The Netherlands thus became the centre of world trade; merchants, artists, typographers, cartographers and explorers were concentrated in Antwerp. And with the development of large-scale economic-financial activities, interest in modern cartography also grew.

It is in this context that Abraham Ortelius' cartographic activity matured as the expression of a collective collaboration between merchants, publishers, navigators and cartographers. It was by no means an accident that Ortelius transformed himself from simple publisher to cartographer after his meeting with Gerhardus Mercator.

Abraham Ortelius' Theatrum Orbis Terrarum is the first to contain only Contemporary maps, even though by different authors and from different cultural extractions, with Italian production still, however, largely prevalent. In this first edition, of the fifty-three maps, thirty-two were in fact produced in Italy, and less than ten in Belgium.

Even in this first edition of Abraham Ortelius' work, the Asian world is not limited to one single representation, but illustrated over different maps (eight in all), the title of one of which is "Tartariae sive Magni Chani Regni typus", and another "Indiae Orientalis, insularumque adiacentium typus ".

What's more, Abraham Ortelius' interest for Asia had already made itself felt in 1567, that is three years before the publication of the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, when - a few years after Giacomo's 'Gastaldi's Map of Asia' - he had printed his own Asiae Orbis Partium maximae Nova Descriptio (The Realm of Asia. A New Description of Its Most Important Regions) in Antwerp. As Abraham Ortelius himself affirmed in the Latin caption in the lower right-hand corner of the "Tartarie [...]" map, for his own he had used 'Gastaldi's Map of Asia', even though he integrated it with other sources (and in particular Marco Polo and Portuguese sources) for the Northern section above 55° latitude, for the South-Eastern section and also Japan, which however is different from Marco Polo's "Cipangu" ("China") 'island'.

Of the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, twenty-seven different editions were published during Abraham Ortelius' life. The first to be published after his death came out in 1598 and 1601, even though they both used maps which had already been compiled while he was still alive. Each had been enriched with numerous Additamenta [Addenda]. A new, specific map dedicated to China, "Chinae, olim Sinarum regionis, nova descriptio ", by [Ludovico] Georgio (Port.: Luís Jorge) [Portuguese - active: sixteenth century], was added to the 1584 edition "III Additamentum" ("III Addenda"). For many years to come, Ludovico Georgio's "Chinae, olim Sinarum regionis, [...]" was to provide the basis for cartographic representations of the large Asian country and influence the much later cartography of the 'Hondiu's Atlas' (1631). Only Jan Huygen van Linschoten [°ca 1583-†1611] managed to partially improve the map in 1596 [hereafter: 'Jan Huygen van Linschoten's Map'], and in particular in the Eastern Chinese coastline. 12

In the North of Ludovico Georgio's "Chinae, olim Sinarum regionis, [...]" there is a drawing of the Great Wall constructed as a bulwark against the Tartars, and the map itself gives us a China that is closed off by a mountain range to the North and to the West; the inland section is characterised by inhabited centres marked by symbols which have different functional articulations, a dense river network and, in the Western section, five large lakes (which can also be found in 'Jan Huygen van Linschoten's Map' and the 'Hondius' Atlas'). The Southern coastal area has been improved if compared to the preceding maps, but the eastern coastline is still excessively uniform and imprecise overall.

Gerhardus Mercator's revision of the material, undertaken in order to prepare his Atlas13 [hereafter: 'Mercator's Atlas'] for publication, seems much more critical. Gerhardus Mercator, along with Gemma Frisius, his teacher, was responsible for founding scientific Renaissance cartography and had also collaborated with Frisius in publishing a celestial sphere in 1536.

His fame is not only linked to the atlas, but also to the Nova et Aucta Orbis Terrae Descriptio Ad Usum Navigantium emendate accommodata, published in Duisburg in 1569, a world map with which he was aiming for a new map projection technique that would be useful for navigators (the technique was subsequently called 'Mercator map projection'), used in nautical cartography for its ability to use a straight line to represent each loxodromic line; to offer as precise a design as possible of the earth's surface and to compare the image the Classical geographers had of the earth with the image afforded by Modem cartography.

To obtain these results he closely studied all the material that was available at the time, from Abraham Ortelius' to Giacomo Gastaldi's cartography, from Castilian and Portuguese portolans to the accounts of Medieval and Contemporary travellers. He then compared all of this with the texts of classical authors like Ptolemy, Pliny [the Elder? - °ca23-†79], Solino and Mela [active: first century AD]. This was a scrupulous undertaking, which led to the realisation of an extremely accurate map - even though he did did not always have the possibility of using the latest information and even though his point of view was still in part a classical vision of the world. When in doubt, he would give more credence to the Classical sources, thus perpetuating a few errors that would also be taken up by other cartographers who subsequently used him as their inspiration.

He had the same scientific approach to his atlas (Atlas sive Cosmographicae Meditationes de Fabrica Mundi et fabricati figura, denuo auctus), a monumental work realised in different sections, the first of which was published in 1585 (with fifty-one maps), the second in 1589 (with twenty three maps), and the third and last posthumously by his son Rumold in 1595. The Atlas [...] contained thirteen maps of Asia, one of which was specifically dedicated to China. 14

Dutch cartographic production was also very important in this period because of the vast activity of the many publishers working there. 15

W. J. Blaeu was a very important printer who, after having published a terrestrial globe in 1590 and a celestial globe in 1603, some years later published an (undated) map of "Asia ", in The Hague. This map was in two sheets, and was part of a group of four maps dedicated to the four continents. On his death, the enterprise was passed on to his two sons Cornelius and Johannes. In 1638, the latter was nominated official cartographer for the [Dutch] East Indies Company, and this allowed him to obtain the so-called authorisation (in 1670) to examine the pilot books of Dutch navigators, thus helping him immensely in his up-dating of Asian cartography, and especially the coastline of China. His main work is his world map [hereafter: 'Johannes Blaeu's World Map '], with which he showed himself to have moved definitively away from the Ptolemaic tradition. Here there are three large continental masses of the 'Old World' (Africa-Eurasia), "India nova"(lit.: "New Indies ", or the 'Americas') and the "Continens australis" ("Australian Continent"), according to a Greek vision of the ecumene, which was also Marco Polo's and Ludovico de Varthema's, who both maintained that, South of "Java major" ("Major Jawa "), there was a region of "Beach and Lucach". The Portuguese sources were by no means ignored in his design of South-East Asia; however, he confused the "Canton River" [i. e., Zhujiang or Pearl River] with the Ganges.

The Blaeus' initiative gave us important cartographic works, such as the 1631 atlas, entitled Appendix Theatri Ortelii et Atlantis Mercatoris; the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum sive Atlas Novus, which was published in two volumes in Amsterdam in1635 "per Guljielmum et Iohannem Blaeu" ("by William and John Blaeu"), containing nine maps on Asia, of which one was entitled China veteribus Sinarum Regio nunc incolis Tame dicta, signed "Guljelmus Blaeu" ("William Blaeu"). One of the Blaeus is also responsible for a terrestrial globe (undated, but certainly post-1629, as this is the latest date amongst those indicated by the Dutch explorers in the Pacific), and a Nova et exacta Asiae Geographica descriptio, published in 1679 and very similar to the Hague edition, republished in French, in Paris, in 1685, by C. H. Jaillot.

De Jode's publishing work should not be overlooked either. In 1578 he published the Speculum Orbis Terrarum, the second edition of which, printed in 1593, was edited by his son Cornelis and contained five maps of Asia. The first four of these maps are a reduced scale reproduction of Gastaldi's large map, while the fifth is the China quae et Sina, signed Cornelis De Jode, where China is divided into its fifteen provinces.

Yet another map of China was published in the seventeenth century by Joannes van Loon as well.

Despite this intense cartographic and publishing activity, representations of China in the seventeenth century were still unsatisfactory, even though they had improved on the Medieval versions. 'Cathay', for example, was still indicated as a distinct entity from 'China' in all Western cartography.

The Portuguese and Dutch voyages did not manage to give us an acceptable representation of the Chinese coastline either (that is, of a section which had been thoroughly explored), even if Korea, which was still being given as an island in the 'Mercator's Atlas' and in the 'Jan Huygen van Linschoten's Map', was for the first time indicated as a peninsula in the 'Hondius' Atlas' published in 1631.

A geographer like Gerhardus Mercator was certainly not unaware of the problem of lack of information, and in 1580, in a letter to Richard Hakluyt [°ca 1552-†1616], he complained about the fact that knowledge about the Far East was vague and indistinct, and that it was still necessary to use Marco Polo or the classical geographers to draw up maps of the region. 16


The West gained a better view of China only when it began to review the material that had been collected or produced after an intense cartographic activity promoted by the Jesuits, by Michele Ruggieri [°1543-†1607] first of all and then by Matteo Ricci [°1552-†1610], between the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Jesuit missions to the East began just after the Order [Society of Jesus] was founded, in 1541, when Francesco Saverio, acting on a suggestion made by [St.] Ignacius of Loyola [°1491-†1556], whom he had met in Paris, decided to leave for India and organise the presence of the Church [i. e., Padroado] in the Portuguese colonial possessions, which is after all precisely what the King of Portugal, Dom João III [°1502-r.1521-†1557], had requested.

Francesco Saverio was already in Goa in 1542, and from here he quickly moved on Maluku and Malacca [presently, Melaka]. Here, the conversion of a Japanese man led him to attempt to expand his apostolic work in the Far East, both in Japan and in China.

But, as is well known, he was not granted permission to enter the Ming Empire, and remained within the areas under Portuguese influence. In fact, he died not far from current Macao, on the small Sancian Island, where the Lusitanians had founded a little commercial emporium. What's more, after Afonso de Albuquerque's victories Portugal had routed Arab hegemony in the Indian Ocean and gained iron-fisted control over navigation in the east, leading to the decadence of Arab geographical sciences. An Arab world map, drawn in 1579 by Ali Ibn Ahmad al-Sharafi [hereafter: 'al-Sharafi's World Map'] of Sfax, is indicative of the Arab's level of knowledge in terms of the Modern Age. 'Al-Sharafi's World Map' contains no reference to the 'New World', the European voyages in the Atlantic or the Pacific, Western cartographic production or, more to the point, Portuguese portolans. It could thus be said that 'al-Sharafi's World Map'is the symbol of an isolated culture, the expression of a people that had already limited its sphere of action to Northern Africa and South-Western Asia, leaving space for new conquest to the Europeans.

The Jesuits' presence in Asia marked the definitive closure of a phase in which the faith was spread thanks to the use of force and war, and opened up another phase that utilised the concept of cultural openness and penetration. It was Alessandro Valignano [°1538-†1606] who had determined this about-face with his organisation and administration of the Society of Jesus' missions in Asia for about thirty years. This suggested to the missionaries that they should adapt to the Eastern peoples' customs and practices. As a result of this general view, there was a tolerance towards the Chinese and Malabar rites, which left the religious Fathers of the Society of Jesus open to criticism and condemnation by other religious Orders, but also led to a greater attention to indigenous culture and the need to gain greater knowledge of the country and its institutions.

After Francesco Saverio, many other missionaries attempted to succeed where he had failed. And if the first to step on Chinese soil was Belchior Nunes Barreto [active: sixteenth century], disembarking in Guangzhou in 1556, it was Michele Ruggieri who inaugurated the modern period of Catholic penetration in China.

Michele Ruggieri remained in China for ten years, from 1579 to 1588, when he returned to Rome. He had arrived thanks to Valignani, who had given him the task of preparing a diplomatic Pontifical mission in Beijing, which was never realised. He was the first missionary to have been given permission to stay in China, and he arrived in Macao in July 1579, after Alessandro Valignano had just departed for Japan leaving him important indications as to what he was to do - the most important point being that he was to learn the Chinese language and customs. Little more than a year later, in November 1580, Michele Ruggieri asked to be assisted by Matteo Ricci in his missionary work, and also communicated that it would be useful to have cartographic material on hand and that the Chinese had an interest in "things mathematical".

When he returned to Italy he took with him a swathe of Chinese materials, which he was to use in continuing the cartographic work he had begun in Asia, and above all to complete his Atlante della Cina Ming (Atlas of Ming China), discovered in 1988 in the Archivio di Stato di Roma (Rome State Archives).

This atlas contains thirty sheets of geographical descriptions and twenty eight maps (plates), some of which are merely notes while others are more polished. For the fifteen provinces [of China] he gives an analytical description, with information on distances, agricultural production, mines, and administrative districts, which he classified as "fu ",· "zhou" · and "xuan ",· to which were added the "wei" · and the "suo ",· that is the military garrisons and sentry posts of the Empire - all of which are indicated in the Atlante della Cina Ming. There are also a few mountain chains and traces for the main rivers.

Alessandro Valignano's policy, which had been inaugurated by Michele Ruggieri, was continued by Matteo Ricci, who was the first to understand that conversion to Catholicism would be easier if the first to be converted were the more culturally advanced and socially elevated classes.

Matteo Ricci was born in Macerata, where, at the age of nine, he began to attend Jesuit schools, which he continued to attend nine years later in Rome. It was in Rome, in 1571, that he began his religious noviciate and became the disciple of Fr. Cristoforo Clavio S. J., for physical sciences. It was Cristoforo Clavio who fostered his interest for cartography, a subject of study that was later to turn out to be of invaluable and fundamental importance in terms of Matteo Ricci's cultural education and subsequent activity.

Matteo Ricci arrived in Goa, [Portuguese] India, in 1578, and about four years later Valignani sent him to Macao to assist Michele Ruggieri in his attempt to penetrate the Middle Kingdom. He stayed in Macao for about eighteen months in order to learn the Chinese language, and the following year he moved from Macao to Zhaoqing, · on the right bank of the Xijiang· River, about a hundred kilometres West of Guangzhou, · which was then the main seat for the dutang·[Governor General]. On leaving Zhaoqing, Matteo Ricci began to move further inland, and eventually went first to Shaoguan, · in 1589, where he founded a new residence, and then to Nanjing, · in 1595, where he was to remain for only a few months, before moving to Nanchang, · where he managed to found a third residence in 1595. He was to found a fourth in Nanjing, in 1598. Here he was able to come in contact with the local scholars, and began a reciprocal dialogue with these on Chinese culture and Western scientific knowledge, and especially with the [Imperial] College of Mathematicians, whose backing was later to allow him to reach and establish himself definitively in Beijing.

In fact, in 1600 he was given authorisation to leave for Beijing, where he arrived the following year and remained until his death, creating a centre for the co-ordination of Jesuit missions in China.

As early as 1584, Matteo Ricci had exhibited a world map made in the West, in Zhaoqing. The map greatly interested and excited the [city's] governor, who invited Matteo Ricci to provide a Chinese edition which he wanted printed and sent throughout the Empire. This marked the beginning of Matteo Ricci's cartographic activity, which was to revolutionise Westerners' geographical and cartographic knowledge of China. Matteo Ricci's first world map [hereafter: 'Zhaoqing World Map'], [- an adaptation in Chinese of the Western world map which he had taken to Zaoqing -] was in fact printed in the same year that Abraham Ortelius published an revised version of his Theatrum Orbis Terrarum in Europe, where, as we have already seen, for China he used [Ludovico] Georgio's "Chinae, olim Sinarum [...]".

Michele Ruggieri and Matteo Ricci were the first, in fact, who were able to have a clear and precise knowledge of the Ming Empire - thanks to their having mastered the language, their having frequented the mandarins and their travels. Unlike others, that is unlike the merchants and missionaries who had come before them, they could therefore draw from original documents, which they elaborated and evaluated critically, presenting them systematically and with practical efficacy, particularly since, in 1586, the Roman printer F. Zannetti began to regularly publish the material that was sent to Rome in the Avvisi [...] (Notes [...] [Annual Letters]) from China and Japan.

Nicolas Trigault, S. J., [°1577-†1628] returned to Rome from the East in 1614, bringing with him a manuscript by Matteo Ricci in which he had written, in Italian, about his Chinese experiences in the years 1582-1609. The manuscript was translated into Latin by Nicolas Trigault, who published a first edition under his name the following year. Shortly afterwards further editions appeared in French, German, Spanish and Italian. 17

Its publication offered positive, concrete and real information about China for the very first time, making a decided break with Classical and Medieval tradition, which had been characterised by fantastical, legendary and mythological elements in the description of distant and unknown lands.

Matteo Ricci's material (like that of other Jesuits who had spent time in the East) began therefore to filter down to and be consulted by different scholars in Europe, so that in the first half in the seventeenth century important works on European expansion and the activity of the Society of Jesus in the East were published. The consultation of archival material held at the Rome Curia Generalizia (High Roman Curia) allowed [Danielo] Bartoli [°1608-†1685], [Jean-Baptiste] Riccioli [° 1598-†1671], [Athanasius] Kircher S. J., [Giovanni Pietro] Maffei, S. J., [°1533-†1603], Luís de Gusmão and, in the following century, [Jean-François] Lafitau, S. J., [°1670-†1740] and [Pierre François Xavier de] Charlevoix, S. J., [°1682-†1761]to analyse the different phases of Catholic penetration in Asia. As many as four monumental works on western expansion in the Far East were published in Spanish and Portuguese between 1603 and 1620. 18

Matteo Ricci, who had gone to China on a religious mandate, ended up broadening the thrust of his action by affording a 'bridge' between Western and Eastern culture; presenting, in other words, the grandiose results of Western Renaissance culture and science to the Chinese, and the originality of Eastern culture to the West.

After him the voyager-merchant-explorer no longer dominates the scene but rather the figure of the explorer-merchant-missionary and above all the figure of 'enquirer', that is someone who desires to see, understand and recount. Each of these points is considered useful in and of itself, independently that is of the possibility of the economic gain which might derive from the discovery.

Francesco Carletti (1573), for whom travelling was indeed a source of economic gain, can be contrasted with his contemporary Pietro Della Valle [° 1586-†1652], in whose works travelling is seen as an end unto itself, or with Giovanni Francesco Gemelli-Careri, quite some time later, who is a careful observer not just of landscapes but above all of the human spirit and the social and economic conditions that contribute to its formation. An author devoid of surprise, the narrator of his own experiences more than of the adventures of others, Gemelli-Careri is a good example of the gap between the person who experiences the voyage and sees that reality on the one hand and, on the other, the person who describes it, without expressing value judgements, that is observing the East not as an inferior reality but simply as different from our own. 19

It is by no means accidental that in this changed context new importance is given to and a new interest is expressed in cartography, which is no longer considered simply the drawing of coastlines and itineraries for voyagers and commercial purposes, but above all as an instrument by which the territory can be understood and represented.

Thus with the Jesuit missions of the sixteenth century a new phase had been inaugurated in the relations between East and West, with which a new configuration of the concept and the vision of the Far East was fostered in Europe. The Far East was more and more exclusively identified with China, which, however, still appeared uncertain in terms of general outline. So much so, in fact, that it continued to be articulated around "Cataio" ("Cathay") and "Mangi", that is a division which had dominated since Marco Polo's 'Milione'.

It had been Marco Polo, in fact, who had described "Cataio" and "Mangi" as separate and different entities for the first time. The former was North China, under Mongol rule (the ancient Empire of the Jin), which could be reached via land by following the Silk Road; the latter, Southern China (the ancient Empire of the Song), which could be reached by sea.

The Far East, the East Indies and the Eastern coastline of Asia were, in the sixteenth century, given such a longitudinal extension that ocean space was remarkably reduced.

It was the prerogative of Matteo Ricci in 1596 to situate China between 19° and 42° longitude North and to extend it in latitude no further than 120° East of the Paris meridian, as well as to restore it to its whole and entire form negated by the "Cataio "-"Mangi" distinction, thus definitively leading China out of Medieval myth towards a new ethical-political-religious myth. This new myth had much greater implications which went well beyond the symbolic syncretism which had constituted the Medieval image of Marco Polo's East. 20

The 'China'- "Cataio" distinction had been determined by considerations on the different climatic conditions that characterised locations at the same latitude, as well as by the changes in toponymy which had taken place between the fall of the Mongol dynasty, dominant at the time of Marco Polo, and the rise of the Ming dynasty. Hence, Cambaluc, the city of the emperor during the Mongol period and Beijing, the site of the royal palace in the North during the Ming domination, were considered two different locations.

Matteo Ricci first mentioned the identification of "Cataio" with "Serica" and 'China' in a letter, dated 1596, from Nanjing to Fr. Giulio Fuligatti, S. J., at the Collegio Romano [headquarters of the Society of Jesus in Rome], and confirmed it two years later when he also corrected the latitude for Beijing, which most had given at approximately 50° North. In the same letter he wrote: "To our Fathers it now begins to be clear - which they have at other times also judged it to be - that this be the Kingdom, the which according to several authors is called Gran Cataio ["Greater Cathay"], and that this city is in fact the Royal Residence of he who was called the Great Khan, who today is the King of China; the which city is called by those same authors Cambalù."21 This same observation was confirmed by scientific, linguistic, geographic and historical observations, which led him to affirm: "This is certain - that at this time there be no country beyond the walls of China called Cataio."22

Matteo Ricci gathered further proof in 1601 in Beijing when he asked some travellers who had just arrived via the Silk Road if they had come across a "Cataio ", to which they replied they had not. Yet more proof came following Fr. Bento de Goes', S. J. [°1562-†1607] mission, which had left Agra in 1603 and followed a tortuous route that took them through the Chavac Pass, Talach'in, Badakhshan, Tangitor, Kasghar [presently, K'oshin] (after a three-year period), then across the Takla Makan desert up to the North-East of Ak'osu and then Hami and Suzhou {sic} [Port. "Sucheu"], near the Great Wall, where in 1605 they were stopped from proceeding any further. The travel diary was destroyed, but Matteo Ricci managed nonetheless to obtain, through Bento de Goes' servant, the Armenian Isaac, the information he was after, and which he needed to confirm what he had thus far only suspected. The same year, Matteo Ricci immediately informed those in Rome of this further proof.

In Beijing, Matteo Ricci began his careful study of China through direct astronomical measurements and by consulting original Chinese sources and documents. Thanks to these he gained an understanding of the administrative organisation, the hydrographic and morphological framework, the latitude of different locations, and the economic activities and culture of the Chinese. 23

The Western map exhibited by Matteo Ricci in Zhaoqing, the characteristics of which are almost completely unknown to us, therefore aroused fascination mainly because of the vastness of the ecumene it represented. The 'Zhaoqing World Map' actually only represented China surrounded by the sea and a few islands identified by the names of kingdoms which the Chinese had heard about indirectly. This is why Matteo Ricci was worried about making his world map public: as China occupied a small part of the map, he feared that this might be interpreted as a lack of respect for the country that was offering him hospitality and that this might therefore hamper his relations, as he himself affirmed in a letter: "When they saw so large a world and China in one of its cantons, so small according to them, then the more ignorant amongst them began to laugh at such a description; yet the wiser amongst them, on seeing such a beautiful order of the large parallels and meridians with the equinox line, the tropics and the five zones with the various costumes of the countries, and the entire earth full of the various names taken from the first map, which was even printed, which gave so much credit to such novelty, they could not let it be believed that all of this was in fact true."24

Matteo Ricci edited nine Chinese editions of the 'Zhaoqing World Map', opportunely modified according to his particular aims. Some were simple reprints, others were veritable up-dates. In 1584 the single-sheet Carta geografica dei monti e dei mari (The Geographical Map of the Mountains and the Seas), that is Matteo Ricci's first world map, appeared in Zhaoqing. Sixteen years later a new edition of this work was published in Nanjing. It was called the Descrittione de mappa universale di tutto il mondo con molte annotazioni e dichiarationi (Description of the Universal Map of All the World with Many Annotations and Declarations),and covered many sheets. A third, six-sheet world map, the Kunyu Wanguo Quantu·(Complete World Map of All the Kingdoms), twice as large as the 1600 version (4.14 x 7.00 m), was published in Beijing in 1602. The following year a fourth, eight-sheet edition was published in Beijing, where it was subsequently reprinted in 1608.

The maps must also have been published in quite a number of copies, especially if you think that the Emperor asked for as many as twelve new world maps to be printed on silk in 1608. However only a few of these copies are extant. No copies at all have survived from the first Zhaoqing edition of 1584 or from the second Nanjing edition of 1600; from the third Beijing edition of 1602 (later reprinted in 1608), only six copies are known to have survived. One of these is held at the Biblioteca Vaticana (Vatican Library), in Rome, another at the Royal Geographical Society, London, yet another in Kyoto, two in Beijing and one in Shenyang, · in Manchuria. This map is extremely large, and is made up of six separate maps of 1.79 x 0.69 m, for an overall area of 4.14 quare metres. Asia is at its centre, and there are six Prefaces, with very rich explanatory notes, legends, figures and the toponymy is in the original language and Chinese ideograms.

Matteo Ricci used different, even contemporary sources for his representation of Europe. He certainly made use of Abraham Ortelius' maps, Ptolemy's Geography, Marco Polo's literary sources and Giovanni Battista Ramusio's work. For Asia, the sources were Chinese. While the representation of Asia showed evident improvement in terms of cartography, in the European, and particularly the Italian, sections there were numerous mistakes. So many, in fact, that the part dealing with Europe was qualitatively inferior to the maps then being produced in Europe, even though the sections were of great value considering China was only just beginning to be introduced to Europe. Despite this, Matteo Ricci managed to excite Chinese interest in scientific instruments and western methods for cartographic representation, giving the Chinese elements of our geographical culture which then fostered a development in their astronomic and cosmological understanding, as well as a broader knowledge of the ecumene25

At that time, Chinese knowledge on the inhabited world were limited to their own territories, and little or nothing was known about the rest of the world. For ancient Chinese geographers, the West was a central region of Asia delimited by Tianshan· in the North, by Kunlunshan· in the South, Pamir· in the West and the Gobi· desert to the East, in other words an area of about 20° longitude and 4° latitude. And yet, until the twelveth century, Chinese geographic and cartographic knowledge was not inferior to contemporary European knowledge.

Chinese maritime voyages were intense as early as the second century BC, and remained intense for some time; after having reached their peak in the early fifteenth century AD, they were interrupted after 1435.

These travels had led the Chinese to the coastal areas of Southern Asia, Africa, Australia and, perhaps, even the American continent, even if they did not give rise to permanent routes. Along with these voyages, they had also developed their technical ability: Chinese travellers used compasses and knew about sea currents and wind dynamics before the Europeans. Between the eleventh and twelfth centuries, much progress was made in terms of nautical cartography, which was quite advanced despite its specifically eastern peculiarities. 26

After the voyages had been interrupted, China began a period of technical-scientific and geographical decadence. Charles Raymond Beazley [°1868-†19??] wrote in 1906, in fact, that at that time "[...] both Islamic and Chinese Culture [lost] their former breadth of view, inquisitive energy, and scientific spirit, that both [became] prisoners of tradition and convention, that as explorers of the world and investigators of [nature] there is little more to be expected of them."27 Hence, in 1628 [1623?], Giulio Aleni, S. J. [°1582-†1649] wrote a Geografia generale ad uso dei cinesi (lit.: General Geography for Use by the Chinese) [Zhifang Waiji]· (Account of Countries not Listed in the Records Office or On World Geography) ?] where he described Europe, Africa and the 'New World', that is areas largely unknown to the Chinese.

Even if the Chinese were not familiar with latitude and longitude and had outdated cosmological notions, they nonetheless had a well-developed cartography where the location of points and the measuring of distances was undertaken on the basis of a network of square grids, on which the territory was surveyed from the large to the small scale. Chinese cartography, in fact, was a largescale cartography, the aim of which was to represent and administer the territory.

This favoured the accumulation of a large store of cartographic material on the various provinces of China, which, once travellers and missionaries discovered and got hold of it, brought about a revision of Western cartography on China.

The four memorial slabs held in the Confucian temple in Suzhou, · one of which (dated AD1247) represented the Empire, must have been familiar to Marco Polo himself; João de Barros, for his description of China, had certainly used a Chinese map, which he said he actually wanted to provide a translation of; J. Saris' map certainly has a Chinese map as its source. Even Samuel Purchas [° 1575-†1626] must have used original Chinese maps when he came across the numerous mistakes both in the general outline of China and in the location of geographic objects in the maps of Abraham Ortelius, Gerhardus Mercator and Hondius. But it was above all the Jesuits, and particularly Michele Ruggieri, Matteo Ricci and Martino Martini, who systematically and profitably used the wealth of Chinese cartographic material, and then transcribed the contents onto new maps drawn up according European scientific methods.

Matteo Ricci's world maps [1584, 1600, 1602,1608] are the first attempt to locate China on a map in its real conformation and its correct astronomical position. This was the end result of the rigorous first-hand measurement of latitude and longitude as well as of indirect estimates and a careful evaluation of the original sources. Matteo Ricci's cartography is the first that is devoid of fantastical or mythological elements. And in order to give the country pride of place, China is placed at the centre of his representation, using the meridian that goes through Japan as the map's fundamental meridian.

Using the technique of oval projection, the world maps [1584, 1600, 1602, 1608] contain a wealth of toponyms (1,200) and legends. These legends sometimes contain explanatory information about Matteo Ricci's missionary activity, an illustration of general principles of cosmography, or information on the peoples and regions represented on the map - and particularly the Chinese ones, for which he provides, along with a vision of the physical elements, detailed information about the human aspects.

The work Matteo Ricci undertook is largely original. He provided a concrete updating of the representation not only of China, but of the entirety of Asia, correcting and modernising the cartography hitherto available. For the first time it was possible to see almost all the main mountain ranges in China, even if his world maps [1584, 1600, 1602, 1608] still includes that North/South-inclined mountainous chain to the West of the Chinese territory, with which China was separated from its bordering regions. There is not doubt, however, that for the first time the general configuration of the Asian country is very close to reality.

Michele Ruggieri's and Matteo Ricci's work was then continued and enhanced by Martino Martini, who, unlike Ruggieri, was able to have an Atlas Sinensis (Chinese Atlas) printed which would bring the large Asian country to the attention of the West. The real geo-cartographic discovery of China is, as Baldacci has said, due to Martino Martini.

Martino Martini's Atlas Sinensis was in fact published in two Latin editions in Amsterdam in 1655. As part of the Atlas Maior Sive Cosmographia Blaviana, it was often translated, and in 1655 itself it came out in four further editions in French, Dutch, German and Spanish translation. Two years before in Amsterdam, Martino Martini had met one of the Blaeus, Johannes, who,after having inherited his father's cartographic business along with his brother and having seen Martini's work, jumped at the incredible chance of publishing it.

The Atlas Sinensis is made up of a descriptive and an illustrative section, this latter containing seventeen maps. One is a general map of the "Imperii Sinarum Nova Descriptio" ("New Description of the Empire of China "), fifteen are dedicated to each of the provinces that made up the country, and one was "Iaponia Regnum " ("The Kingdom of Japan"), on a scale of about 1:3,552,000.

Martino Martini, like Michele Ruggieri and Matteo Ricci, critically used original Chinese sources. He improved the geographical co-ordinates so as to insert China in the context of the modern world. He probably also used Chinese sources which had been taken to Italy by Francesco Carletti, 28 and above all the cartographic work of Michele Ruggieri, about which we knew next to nothing until a few years ago but which was doubtless familiar to Martino Martini.

Even though the structure of the atlases is so similar as to make one think that, besides being the end product of a joint collaboration between the Jesuits, there was above all a single original source, there are, however, a few significant differences in the different cartographic representations. These differences can be seen both in the territorial area and the geographical co-ordinates.

Some of Michele Ruggieri's maps (tables) have latitude marked in the right-hand margin, even if this is sometimes only approximate, and particularly in terms of the more elevated latitude. Beijing's latitude is given as 46° North, and this demonstrates that he could not have used the more recent information acquired by Matteo Ricci once he returned to Rome. But the reduction of the Ptolemaic outline is, in his "Atlante della Cina" ("Map of China"), remarkable. The form of the country was greatly corrected, as was the Southern and Eastern coastline. Even the size of the country is more realistic than elsewhere, particularly in reference to the size suggested by Martino Martini or Michael Boym [°1612-†1659], as well as Abraham Ortelius and Giacomo Gastaldi.

Even [Nicolas] Sanson [d'Abbeville ?] was able to see Michele Ruggieri's work, which he defined as being more reliable than Martini's, whom he had criticised, and he therefore used Ruggieri for his Asie [...] [Asia [...]]. 30

If Matteo Ricci's work greatly influenced Eastern, and especially Japanese, cartography, Michele Ruggieri's had a greater impact on European cartography on China. 31

Cartography on Asia was enriched, after the work produced by the Jesuits, with new material, above all thanks to the Dutch and the French, 32 who were to foster the further development of Modem cartography in the early eighteenth century. The main figures were Janson, who perfected a new system for the indirect measurement of distance and the identification of points through trigonometric procedures; Picard, who came up with a new measurement for the meridian; Cassini and [Guillaume] Delisle [°1675-†1726] [with his father, Claude (°1644-†1720) and his brother Joseph-Nicolas (° 1688-†1768)], who radically corrected the representational systems used for the earth by completely eliminating all the remainders in the Ptolemaic tradition; and [Nicolas] Sanson [d'Abbeville?], who, as has already been said, critically re-evaluated Martino Martini's work and thus suggested that there was a need for revisions and modernisation.

In 1688, King Louis XIV of France [° 1638-r. 1643-†1715] personally funded a Jesuit mission to Beijing, independent from the mission subjected to Portuguese Padroado. The Emperor Kangxi [r. 1662-†1722] entrusted members of that mission with the task of surveying the entire Empire. The survey took eight years (1708-1716), and led to the production of a large bilingual atlas (in Manchurian and Chinese) in thirty-two sheets. These maps were then translated by the Jesuits and sent back to Paris. On these, the King's [Louis XV - °1710-r.1715-†1775] geographer Jean-Baptiste D'Anville drew up his Nouvel Atlas de la Chine [...] (New Atlas of China [...].] (1733), included in Jean-Baptiste du Halde's [°1674-†1743] Mémoires de la Chine {sic} [Description Géographique, Historique, Chronologique, Politique Et Physique De L 'Empire de la Chine et de la Tartarie Chinoise, [...].].

With Jean-Baptiste D'Anville, symbolic and figurative representations and allegories disappeared for good. The era of empirical cartography came to a close, and that of scientific cartography inaugurated. Thanks to the incredible contribution made by the Jesuits, even China rid itself of the fantastical and the mythical, bringing its own identity to bear within the cartographic panorama of European production.

Translated from the Italian by: Salvatore Mele

* Lecturer on Economic Geography. Head of the Facoltá degli Studi del Sannio-Benevento (Faculty of Sannio-Benevento), Benevento, Italy.


1 Christianity was first introduced into China by the Nestorians. In 635, Olopen and other monks arrived in China from Iran. From the then capital Changan, now known as Xi'an, · the movement extended to most of the Empire until the ninth century, when it almost completely disappeared, only to re-flourish between the twelveth and thirteenth centuries. The stele of Xi'an bears important witness to this early Christian evangelisation of China. The stele can be dated to 781, but was not discovered until the seventeenth century; it has given us information on the Nestorian doctrines of the seventh-eight centuries.

See: D'ELIA, Pasquale M., S. J., ed., Fonti Ricciane: documenti originali concernenti Matteo Ricci e la storia delle prime relazioni tra l'Europa e la Cina 1579-1615, 3 vols., Roma, Libreria dello Stato, 1942-1949 - On this point.

Also see: TUCCI, G., Italia e Oriente, Milano, Garzanti,1949 - On the broader relations between the East and the West.

2 CARPINE, Giovanni di Pian da, DAFFINÀ, P. LEONARDI, C. - LUNGAROTTI, M. C., - MINISTÒ, E. - PETECH, Luciano, eds.,Storia dei Mongoli, Spoleto, 1989 - In the Text Giovanni da Carpine's name is given in the form by which it is more familiarly known to geographers, i. e., "Giovanni da Pian del Carpine", the same is true for Cambaluc, more commonly known as "Cambalu".

3 ALMAGIÀ, R., Storia della Geografia, in ABBAGNANO, N., ed., "Storia della Scienza", Torino, Utet, 1962, vol.5, pp.185-303, p.210.

4 This is the Liber Secretorum Fidelium Crucis, where, as the author also affirms in his Proemio, "[...] quattro mappas mundi [...]" ("[...] four world maps [...] ") have been inserted. One of these denominated "[...] de mari et de terra [...]"("[...] of Seas and Lands [...]"), is certainly a circular planisphere (with a diametre of about 27.00 centimetres) and was elaborated by Pietro Vesconte, a cartographer who was Genovese by birth but who then moved to Venice, where he colaborated with Marino Sanuto [the Elder?].

5 ALMAGIÀ, R., L'Asia sudorientale presso Tolomeo, in "Bollettino della Società Geografica Italiana", Roma, 1991, pp.523-525; VOLZ, V., Sudost-Asien bei Ptolemas, in "Geographische Zeitschrift", Wiesbaden, 1911, pp.31-40.

6 MAIELLO, A., La descrizione del Sind in Istahari, in BENCARDINO, Filippo, ed., "La cartografia geografica nel progresso delle conoscenze sull'Oriente nell'Europa dei secoli XV-XIX", in "Contributi geographici", Napoli, Istituto Universitario Orientali, (5) 1991, pp.217-233.

7 ALMAGIA, R., On the Cartographic Work of Francesco Rosselli, in "Imago Mvndi",Amsterdam, ser. (1) 1967, pp.7-34; LAGO L., Notizie sull'Oriente tra '400 e '500, in BENCARDINO, Filippo, ed., "La cartografia geografica nel progresso delle conoscenze sull'Oriente nell'Europa dei secoli XV-XIX", in "Contributi geographici", Napoli, Istituto Universitario Orientali, (5) 1991, pp.65-91.

Even in the 'Contarini-Roselli Planisphere' one can see a combination of Ptolemaic elements with information deriving from more recent exploratory voyages; even if in the 'Contarini-Roselli Planisphere' the representation of Asia is more indebted to Ptolemy than it is in Ruysch or other contemporary cartographers. Marked analogies that can be found in sixteenth century cartographic production have led ALMAGIÀ, R., Un planisfero italiano del 1506, in "Rivista Geographica Italiana", Firenze, 1924, pp.67-72 to maintain that, considering the fact that the main problem was that of collocating in their correct positions the toponyms that had come directly from Marco Polo or other travellers, cartographers did not derive their representations simply from narrative sources, but also had some common cartographic source which we no longer have access to.

8 LAGO, L., op. cit.; FERRO, G., Pietro Coppo e la sua opera geografica, in "Rivista Geografica Italiana", 1990, Firenze, pp.243-249.

9 The wall map was impressively large (2.80 x 6.00 metres) and was, incredibly positioned according to Chinese tradition, with South at the top of the map.

10 FERRO, G., Le navigazioni lusitane nell'Atlantico e Cristoforo Colombo in Portogallo, Milano, Mursia,1984 [lst edition, 1974]; BARCHIESI, R., «Narrare la scoperta e la conquista dell 'Oriente» Memorie e storie portoghesi del Cinquecento, in AA. VV. ed., "Cronache iberiche di viaggio e di scoperta. Tra storia e letteratura. In Memoria di Erilde Melillo", Napoli, Istituto Universitario Orientale,1987, pp.41-61 -According to the author, "descobrimento" ("discovery") was seen by the Portuguese as the identification of routes, the acquisition of knowledge and of new techniques with the aim of attaining a predetermined goal, of an aim that is at least known in advance in its general scope and outline. This aim was above all to find and conquer new markets, the expansion of mercantile activity realised through the elimination of enemies and competitors. On a territorial level, therefore, what was extremely important was knowledge about the places in question (this is one thing the Portuguese had in common with the Jesuits) and the possession of fortified points along the main routes.

These aims can be found in the Portuguese travel literature of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries (Gonçalo Eanes de Azurara [ °ca 1410/1420-†1473/1474], Diogo Pacheco[(active: late fifteenth century-early sixteenth century], Gaspar Correia [active: early sixteenth century], Tomé Pires [°1???-†1540] and João de de Barros [ °ca 1469-†ca1570]), where 'discovery' means above all punctiliously taking note of everything that has been seen, recording the reality that has been observed or gleaned thanks to the stories of others, drawing up inventory lists of products, measuring distances, and glorifying the Portuguese nation.

11 BALDACCI, O., Introduzione ad una mostra di atlanti antichi, in "Atti XX Congresso Geografico Italiano", 2 vols., Roma, Società Geographica Italiana, 1969, vol.l, pp. 220-222.

12 CARACI, C., La carta della Cina dell'Ortelio ed il suo autore, in "Bolletino della Società Geografica Italiana", Roma, 1935, pp. 671-673.

13 KEUNING, J., The History of an Atlas. Mercator Hondius, in "Imago Mvndi", Stockholm, 1 (147), pp. 37-61 - Where the author mentions that term "Atlas" was used for the first time with Gerhardus Mercator to indicate a systematic collection of maps.

14 A second edition, edited by Rumoldo's heirs, appeared in Dusseldorf in 1602, and some forty further editions were subsequently edited between 1606 and 1640 by J. Hondius, who became the proprietor of all printing offshoots.

15 KEUNING, J., Sixteenth Century Cartography in the Netherlands, in "Imago Mvndi", Amsterdam, (1) 1967, pp.35-63 - On Dutch cartographic production in this period.

16 HAKLUYT, Richard, MARENCO, F., ed., I viaggi inglesi (1490-1600), Milano, 1966, vol.1, p.310 [Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffics, and Discoveries of the English Nation (1st edition, 1599)].

17 The edition that appeared under Nicolas Trigault's name was enormously successful and subsequently any trace of Matteo Ricci's manuscript was completely lost for about three centuries. Only in 1909 did Pietro Tacchi Venturi, S. J., fortuitously rediscover it, editing it for publication in two volumes: the first appeared in 1911 under the title Commentarij della Cina; the second in 1913 under the title Lettere [Opere storiche del P. Matteo Ricci, Macerata]. Matteo Ricci's text was published, edited by Pasquale D'Elia in 1942, in a new critical edition with the addition of new sources covering the period that went from 1579 to 1615.

18 In the mid-sixteenth century Giovanni Battista Ramusio had used Marco Polo, Giovanni da Pian del Carpine and Odorico da Pordenone for his Delle Navigationi et Viaggi; only fifty years later many innovative works were published, such as those by F. A. de San Romano (1603), Melchior Estácio do Amaral [active: late XVth century-early XVIth century] (1604), Fernão Mendes Pinto (1620) and F. de Herrera Maldonado (1620).

19 PEROCCO, D., Fenomenologia dell'esotismo: viaggiatori italiani in Oriente, in BENCARDINO, Filippo, ed., "La cartografia geografica nel progresso delle conoscenze sull'Oriente nell'Europa dei secoli XV-XIX", in "Contributi geographici", Napoli, Istituto Universitario Orientali, (5) 1991, pp.144-165; ALAGNA, S. Ballo, Il calabrese Gemelli Careri, in "Bolletino della Società Geografica Italiana", Roma, 1991, pp.319-328.

20 ZOLI, S., La Cina nella cultura italiana del Settecento, in MARAZZI, V., ed., "La conoscenza dell'Asia e dell'Africa in Italia nei secoli XVIII e XIX", 2 vols., Napoli, Istituto Universitario Orientale, 1984, vol.1, pp.211-257; ZOLI, S., L'immagine dell'Oriente nella cultura italiana da Marco Polo al Settecento in "Storia d'ltalia, Annali", Torino, Einaudi, 1982, vol.5.

21 VENTURI, Pietro Tacchi Venturi, S. J., Opere storiche del P. Matteo Ricci [vol. 1: Commentarij della Cina; vol.2: Lettere], Macerata, 1911-1913, 1911, vol.1, pp.141-142.

22 Idem.

23 Through his cartographic activity, Matteo Ricci came to a deeper understanding of China and aroused the interest and earned the respect of the Chinese. In one of his letters to the West, he confessed that he was thought of as a new Ptolemy.

24 MAGNAGHI, A., Il P. Matteo Ricci e la sua opera geografica, in "Rivista Geografica. Italiana", Firenze, 1905, pp.126-143, pp.141-142.

25 D'ARELLI F., P Matteo Ricci, S. J. le 'coses absurdi' dell'astronomia cinese. Genesi, eredità ed influsso di un convincimento tra i secoli XVI-XVII, in IANNACCONE, I. - TAMBURELLO, A., eds., "Dall'Europa alla Cina: Contributi per una storia dell'astronomia", Napoli, Università degli Studi Federico II - Istituto Universitario Orientale, 1990, pp.89-90 - Matteo Ricci had the following to say about the cosmological conceptions of the Chinese: "They think that the sky is empty and the stars move in the void; not knowing what air is, they have five elements; they exclude air, and put metal and wood in the three; they think the earth is flat, nor do they have any idea that there are the antipodes; they say that the eclipse of the moon takes place because, as the moon moves towards the sun in its diametrical side, it loses its light and colour through fear: the sun, they say, hides at night under a mountain on the earth [...]; they are fascinated by the subtlety of the reasons I give them, both in proving anything in the mathematical field as in the philosophical, and [they are fascinated by] the things in our faith, and think I am a bottomless well of knowledge and that our earth has never produced anything similar, which thing makes me laugh exceedingly."

However, we should by no means ignore the fact that, after the Church's persecution of Galileo Galilei, even Matteo Ricci himself began to transmit 'absurdities' to the Chinese in terms of cosmology.

26 NEEDHAM, Joseph, Science and Civilization in China, 8 vols. [cont.], Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1954-1996, WANG Ling, coll., vol.3 (Mathematics and Sciences of the Heavens and the Earth), [part 2] (The Sciences of the Earth), [chapter] 22 (Geography and Cartography), pp.497-590.

27 BEAZLEY, Charles Raymond [Sir], The Dawn of Modern Geography. A history of exploration and geographical science from the Conversion of the Roman Empire to AD900 (c. AD900-1260c. AD1260-1420) [...], 3 vols., London, John Murray, 1897-1906,1906, vol.2, pp 12-13.

28 This is a sixteenth century Chinese atlas in two volumes. In the first volume there are five introductory manuscript pages, "Breve interpretazione di questo primo libro di Geografia delle XV Province della Cina, fatta dichiarare da Francesco Carletti, stando in questo paese, a un Cinese suo amico " ("A brief interpretation of this first book of Geography of the XV Provinces of China, as Francesco Carletti, being in this country, had it declared to him by a Chinese, his friend"). The atlas reached Florence in 1606 thanks to Francesco Carletti himself. Besides the fifteen maps of the Chinese provinces and a general map, which has since been lost, the manuscript also contains a description of the country, used by Francesco Carletti in his Ragionamenti (Reasonings).

See: FRESCURA, B., - MORA, A., Un atlante cinese della Magliabechiana di Firenze, in "Rivista Geografica Italiana", Firenze, 1894, pp.417-422 and 475-486, pp.417-422.

29 Michele Ruggieri's China extended from 18° and 51° lat. North and between 128° and 170° long. East, fundamental meridian covering an area that went from 33° lat. to 26° long.; Martino Martini, S. J., [°1614-†1661]was between 18°-41° lat, North and 125°-151° long. East (23° lat. and 26° long.); Michael Boym, S. J., [°1612-†1659] between 17°-46°36' lat. North and 113°-143° long. East (30° lat.-30° long.). According to Alvaro de Semedo, S. J., [°1586-†1658], China only occupied 19° lat. and 20°-22° long.

30 [Nicolas] Sanson [d'Abbeville ?] [°1600-†1667] found it extremely difficult to choose a map of China to include in his 1602 {sic} L'Asie [...] (Asia [...]. In comparing four maps he had available to him, he was able to note that the differences were substantial and mainly in reference to the characteristics of the provinces, the form and position of geographical objects, the toponymy and the surface area. For Álvaro de Semedo, China had a surface area comparable to Europe's; for Martino Martini, it was twice the size of Europe; for Michael Boym, three times larger, and for Michele Ruggieri a whole four times greater. He thought they were so unreliable that he actually used Samuel Purchas' map for the 1652 edition, modifying it according to his own beliefs. This, however, led [Nicolas] Sanson [d'Abbeville?] to assert that new surveys had to be undertaken. These were indeed undertaken between 1708 and 1716 and led to the Jean Baptiste d'Anville map, printed in 1717 (second edition dated 1721), in thirty two tables.

31 WALLIS, H., The Influence of Father Ricci on Far Eastern Cartography, in "Imago Mvndi", Amsterdam, 1965, pp.38-45.

32 Between the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, new cartographic products on China were issued, thanks to: WITT, F., de, Asia [...], Amsterdam, ca1740; ROSSI, de, Mercurio Geografico, Roma, 1685-1692, - with maps by [Nicolas] Sanson [d'Abbeville?] and Cantelli; CORONELLI, V. M., Corso geografico universale, Venezia, 1692 - containing eighteen maps of Asia drawn up on the basis of reports written by Philippe Couplet, S. J. [°1624-†1639]; MONTORSELO, G. Cantelli di, - with ten maps of Asia, amongst which an Asia nuovamente corretta et accresciuta (Asia again revised and enlarged), 1682, in particular based on information inferred from the Jesuit Fathers G. Grueber, B. Goes and Martino Martini; Michel Taverner; R. de Vagondy; and SEUTTER - LOTTER - who carried on the tradition of Dutch atlases.

See: PETECH, Luciano, Una carta cinese del secolo XVIII, in "Annali dell'Istituto Universitario Orientale", Napoli, 1953, pp.185-187 - In 1711, the Emperor Kangxi [r.1662-†1722] had a general map of China drawn up based on surveys then underway for the large Jesuit atlas. The Emperor ordered the Matteo Ripa to make a trace copy of the map in 1719, of which an extant copy is held at the Istituto Universitario Orientale (University Oriental Institute), Naples.

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