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VISIONS OF THE CELESTIAL EMPIRE: CHINA'S IMAGE IN WESTERN CARTOGRAPHY
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24 Sep 2008 - 09 Nov 2008

This exhibition presents the history of Western cartography of China from the 15th to 19th centuries, a period in which major developments in Western intellectual thought, especially during the Renaissance and the Enlightenment periods, altered forever perceptions of the world. The exhibition is co-presented by the Consulate General of Italy in Hong Kong, The University Museum and Art Gallery, HKU and Champion Technology, and has been organised by the Martino Martini Centre of the University of Trento in Italy.

Maps may be considered the first expressions of a desire to depict knowledge of the known world in a single interpretation. The most efficient and systematic method of disseminating such information was in printed collections: the atlas. The exhibition includes over 40 special loans of original Chinese and Western maps from the World Cultural Relics Protection Foundation, donated by Mr Paul Kan, as well as over one hundred examples of maps of Asia and China reproduced from hand drawn and printed maps, representing the Italian, Portuguese, Dutch, French, German and British cartographic schools.

The European fascination with China provided the motivation for many expeditions. Of particular importance were the Italian Jesuits such as Matteo Ricci and Martino Martini, who travelled to China in the 17th century. There they discovered an ancient, sophisticated and scientific cartographic tradition that they studied and incorporated into their work using European instruments to make the most accurate maps of their day.

Father Martino Martini (1614-1661) exemplifies this period of great dialogue and exchange between Europe and China. Sent to China in 1640, he traveled throughout the country during the difficult years between the Ming and the Qing dynasties, conducting astronomical, geodetic and topographic observations. On his way back to Europe in 1651, Martini was captured by a Dutch ship and held prisoner for a year in Batavia (Jakarta), the centre of the Dutch colonial empire. Officials of the Dutch East India Company examined his papers, among which was an atlas that he had drawn up, which they translated. In 1655, Blaeu's publishing company published Martini's Novus Atlas Sinensis containing 17 maps, with coordinates of 2,100 resorts, and 170 pages of text with information about provincial borders, general features, customs, products, administration etc. A number of original prints of his 1655 atlas will also be on display. 

To coincide with the exhibition, The Centre of Asian Studies, HKU; The Martino Martini Centre of University of Trento in Italy; and the UMAG are pleased to present an academic workshop entitled "Cartography and Instruments in East and West", in the afternoon of Wednesday 24 September 2008 at the Museum. The workshop is supported by the Consulate General of Italy in Hong Kong.

 

Portrait of Martino Martini, 1661, 

 oil painting,

 Collection of Buonconsiglio Castle, Trento

 

Map of Beizhili, Beijing, 

 1655 in Novus Atlas Sinensis

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