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Description

An attractive view of the Chinese imperial capital of Beijing, shown as it appeared during the beginning of the Qing Dynasty, from the drawings of the German adventurer Johann (Jan) Nieuhof, who was in the employ of the Dutch East India Company (the VOC).

This fine view captures Beijing from the countryside, showing the city as it rises above its massive ancient walls. When Nieuhof visited Beijing in the 1650s, the city was newly installed as the permanent capitial of the Qing Dynasty, as this role was no longer to be shared with Nanjng, as it had been during the recently fallen Ming Dynasty (Beijing means 'Northern Capital' and Peking is a western corruption of this name). The city had a population of around 700,000, roughly tied with Istanbul as the World's most populous city. One can make out the great Tianning Pagoda (built around 1120) in the far left and near the center, the red towers of the Forbidden City (the Emperor's sacred domain).

Johannes Nieuhof (1618-72) was a German-born diplomat and adventurer in the service of the VOC, who was perhaps the most widely traveled individual of the seventeenth-century. His experiences included important expeditions to various locations in Brazil, Africa, India, Indonesia, and China. From 1655-57, Nieuhoff made an epic 2,400 mile trek through China, from Guandong to Beijing.

During his Chinese expedition, he made numerous drawings of the sites he encountered, including the port town of Chau Cheu Fu, in the southern province of Guandong, which was the basis for the present print. Nieuhoff's important written account, along with engravings of his drawings, was first published as Legatio batavica ad magnum Tartariæ chamum Sungteium, modernum Sinæ imperatorem (Amsterdam, 1668). The present view was published as part of a subsequent Dutch-langauge edition of his work, Het Gezantschap der Neêrlandtsche Oost-Indische Compagnie, aan den grooten Tartarischen Cham, den tegenwoordigen Keizer van China... (Amsterdam, 1749). His illustrations proved to be highly influential, as they did much to spawn the genre of chinoiserie in European art and design.

An important early view of Beijing, by one of the leading European explorers of China.

The present example appeared in a French publication, Prevost d'Exiles.