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Rare 17th Century Italian Map of China

Finely colored example of this rare early map of China, Japan and Korea, along with neighboring regions, by Cantelli da Vignola and published in Rome by Rossi. The map was engraved by Giorgio Widman for Rossi's Mercurio Geografico.

The map identifies a number of important early sources, including Martini, Tavernier, Giovanni Grueber and Benedetto Goes. Macao is shown, but pre-dating Hong Kong. The Great Wall of China is prominently depicted. Formosa is shown as Loqucio o Formosa I. The name Taiuan o N. Zelanda also appears next to the island.

Korea is shown as a long narrow peninsula, with a number of cities named. Ezo is depicted as part of mainland Asia. Embellished with a superb baroque title cartouche surmounted by an Eastern potentate and flanked by brimming cornucopia and mermaids.

Bento de Gois (1562-1607)

This is one of the few maps we have ever seen to identify Goes as a source. Bento de Gois was a Portuguese missionary and explorer. He is best known as the first known European to travel overland from India to China, via Afghanistan and the Pamirs. Inspired by controversies among the Jesuits as to whether the Cathay of Marco Polo's stories is the same country as China, his expedition conclusively proved that the two countries are one and the same, and, according to Henry Yule, made "Cathay... finally disappear from view, leaving China only in the mouths and minds of men".

Johann Grueber (1623-1680)

Grueber was an Austrian Jesuit Missionary and astronomer, who went to China in 1656, where he was active at the court of Peking as professor of mathematics and assistant to Father Adam Schall von Bell. In 1661 his superiors sent him, together with the Belgian Father Albert Dorville (D'Orville), to Rome in order to defend Schall's work on the Chinese calendar (He was accused of encouraging 'superstitious practices').

As it was impossible to journey by sea on account of the blockade of Macau by the Dutch, they conceived the daring idea of going overland from Peking to Goa (India) by way of Tibet and Nepal. This led to Grueber's memorable journey (Dorville died on the way), which won him fame as one of the most successful explorers of the seventeenth century (Tonnier). They first travelled to Sinning-fu, on the borders of Kan-su; thence, through the Kukunor territory and Kalmyk Tartary, (Desertum Kalnac), to Lhasa. They crossed, amid difficulties and hardships, the mountain passes of the Himalayas; arrived at Kathmandu, Nepal, and thence descended into the basin of the Ganges: Patna and Agra, the former capital of the Mughal empire. This journey lasted 214 days.

Emperor Leopold I requested that Grueber return to China via Russia in order to explore the possibility of another land route through central Asia, but the journey ended at Constantinople as Grueber fell seriously ill and was forced to return.

Giacomo Giovanni Rossi Biography

Giacomo Giovanni Rossi (1627-1691) was an Italian engraver and printer. He worked in Rome, the heir to an important printing business founded by his father, Giuseppe de Rossi (1570-1639). Giuseppe began the press in 1633 and Giovanni and his brother, Giandomenico (1619-1653) took it over upon his death. The brothers expanded the business and by the mid-seventeenth century it was the best-known printing house in Rome.

For his maps, Giovanni worked with Giacomo Cantelli da Vignola. They produced the Atlas Mercurio Geografico. The first edition is undated, but the second was issued in 1692, a year after Giovanni’s death. The maps were by Cantelli. The firm also published maps based on those of Nicolas Sanson.

Later, the business passed to Lorenzo Filippo (1682-?). By 1738, the firm was known as Calcografia Camerale, then, from 1870 to 1945, as the Regia Calcografica. Today, the firm is still in business and is called Calcografia Nazionale. It operates as a free museum and offers one of the best collections of prints and plates in the world.