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First edition of this rare Jesuit map of China, published by Jean Baptiste Nolin in Paris.

The map first appeared in 1686 in the present form, then was reissued without the text at the bottom of the map in Philippe Couplet's Tabula Chronologica Monarchiae Sinicae, published in 1686, a chronological table of Chinese Monarchs from 2952 BC to 1683. The work is divided into two tables, with this map between the two tables. The map shows China's 15 provinces and 155 major cities, and notes the location of the discovery of the Nestorian Stele in Shaanxi Province as well as the island where St. Francis Xavier died in Southern China. The presence of a Christian Mission is denoted by a cross next to a place name.

The printed tables list the Cities, Settlements, Families, Temples and Missionaries, etc in each of the Provinces and the map shows the extent and influence of the Jesuit Faith in China at this time.

Philippe Couplet (1623-1693) was a Jesuit priest who entered the Society of Jesus on October 11, 1640 and was ordained on November 25, 1654. During the latter part of his education, he befriended Ferdinand Verbiest and Francois de Rougemont, with whom he would undertake his China Mission. In 1648, Couplet and Verbiest were assigned to a mission in Mexico, but were denied transit by the Spanish Government.

Couplet was inspired to undertake his mission to China after hearing a speech given by Martino Marini in Leuven in 1654. He departed for China in 1656 and arrived in 1659. He worked in the provinces of Jiangxi, Fujian, Huguang, Zhejiang, Nanking and Suzhou, before being exiled to Canton with most other missionaries in 1665. In 1671, he returned to Songjiang, and later to the island of Zongming.

In 1680, Couple was appointed procurator of the Chinese Vice-Province and sent to Rome. He left Macau on December 5, 1681 and reached Europe on October 8, 1682. Ferdinand Verbiest had charged him to get French Jesuits for the China mission, as only Portuguese Jesuits or those who worked for Portugal had been in China. In Europe, Couplet visited several Courts and had an audience with Louis XIV.

In Paris, Couplet edited the famous book Confucius Sinarum Philosophus (Paris 1687). Couplet also published his Tabula chronologica monarchiae sinicae. Couplet had contacts in Europe with others interested in China, including Christian Mentzel (1622-1701), Andreas Mauller (1630-1694), Melchisedech Thevenot (1620-1692), and Thomas Hyde (1636-1703).

Jean-Baptiste Nolin Biography

Jean-Baptiste Nolin (ca. 1657-1708) was a French engraver who worked at the turn of the eighteenth century. Initially trained by Francois de Poilly, his artistic skills caught the eye of Vincenzo Coronelli when the latter was working in France. Coronelli encouraged the young Nolin to engrave his own maps, which he began to do. 

Whereas Nolin was a skilled engraver, he was not an original geographer. He also had a flair for business, adopting monikers like the Geographer to the Duke of Orelans and Engerver to King XIV. He, like many of his contemporaries, borrowed liberally from existing maps. In Nolin’s case, he depended especially on the works of Coronelli and Jean-Nicholas de Tralage, the Sieur de Tillemon. This practice eventually caught Nolin in one of the largest geography scandals of the eighteenth century.

In 1700, Nolin published a large world map which was seen by Claude Delisle, father of the premier mapmaker of his age, Guillaume Delisle. Claude recognized Nolin’s map as being based in part on his son’s work. Guillaume had been working on a manuscript globe for Louis Boucherat, the chancellor of France, with exclusive information about the shape of California and the mouth of the Mississippi River. This information was printed on Nolin’s map. The court ruled in the Delisles’ favor after six years. Nolin had to stop producing that map, but he continued to make others.

Calling Nolin a plagiarist is unfair, as he was engaged in a practice that practically every geographer adopted at the time. Sources were few and copyright laws weak or nonexistent. Nolin’s maps are engraved with considerable skill and are aesthetically engaging.

Nolin’s son, also Jean-Baptiste (1686-1762), continued his father’s business.