Imperial Russia and the Lev Vasilyevich Izmailov Embassy to China
Decorative map of Russia and Central Asia, showing the Northeast Passage.
The map is a remarkable cartographic artifact from the early 18th century, providing a detailed view of Russia at the beginning of the 18th Century. The map covers the entirety of the Russian Empire at the time, stretching from the Arctic Circle in the north to the "Oceanus Orientalis" and the northern parts China (Chinae Septentrionalis confinia), Mongolia and India in the south. This extensive geographical coverage includes Siberia, Mongolia, and parts of Central Asia, illustrating the vastness of the Russian Empire and its neighboring territories.
The map is embellished with fine engraving, depicting intricate geographical details like mountain ranges, forests, rivers, and settlements. The cities, towns, and other landmarks are labeled in Latin, with Moscow (Moscua) prominently marked as the starting point of the Russian embassy to the Chinese emperor (1719-20), led by Lev Vasilyevich Izmailov. The route of this diplomatic mission is traced across the vast expanses of Tartary and into China, finally crossing the Great Wall and arriving in Beijing.
The cartouche is an exemplary piece of the baroque artistry typical of Homann's works, adorned with allegorical figures and decorative embellishment, projecting the land, sea and technical strength of Czarist Russia.
Johann Baptist Homann (1663-1724) was a mapmaker who founded the famous Homann Heirs publishing company. He lived his entire life in Bavaria, particularly in Nuremberg. Initially, Johann trained to become a priest before converting to Protestantism and working as a notary.
In 1702, Johann founded a publishing house that specialized in engravings. The firm flourished, becoming the leading map publisher in Germany and an important entity in the European map market. In 1715, Johann was named Imperial Geographer to the Holy Roman Empire by Charles VI and made a member of the Prussian Academy of Sciences. Most importantly for his business, his reputation and contacts gained him imperial printing privileges which protected his publications and recommended him to customers. Johann is best known for this Grosser Atlas ueber die ganze Welt, or the Grand Atlas of the World, published in 1716.
After Johann died in 1724, the business passed to his son, Christoph (1703-1730). Upon Christoph’s early death, the company passed to subsequent heirs, with the name of the company changing to Homann Erben, or Homann Heirs. The firm continued in business until 1848.