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The Rarest and Most Coveted Map of China Published in the Sixteenth Century

Striking example of De Jode's map of China, one of the earliest maps of China printed in Europe and the first map to begin to show the emergence of Korea on a printed map. The map is one of rarest maps of China from the seventeenth century, as it was included in De Jode's revised atlas, which was only printed once.

De Jode's map of China is the third western map of China, based on the Barbuda model, but recast in a north-south orientation. The map coverage has been shifted north to show north-eastern Tartary and Inner-Asia, presumably derived from Jesuit sources, although de Jode also acknowledges Juan Gonzalez de Mendoza and Giovanni Pietro de Maffei as sources for the map. According to Hong Kong University Library, this is the first European map to show the "emergent" shape of the Korean peninsula and the Gulf of Pecheli (Boahi). The Pearl River Estuary is also very detailed and outsized, perhaps reflecting its commercial importance for China.

The map of China, which includes parts of northeast Asia and Japan, is enclosed within a central circle. Around the corners of the map are ornate strapwork, text boxes, and four vignettes in the corners that represent how Europeans imagined Chinese and Japanese people to live. These vignettes are some of the earliest depictions of quotidian Chinese and Japanese life printed in Europe. In the upper left is a man fishing with a cormorant. In the lower left, a three-headed man is being worshipped by two men. In the lower right, a sailing cart creaks along a road, powered by the wind; similar carts also appeared on maps by Hondius and Speed. Finally, in the upper right, a house boat complete with a working chimney and a duck enclosure floats on calm waters.

Beyond China, the map also includes a nice treatment of the northern parts of India, including an early and relatively detailed depiction of the complicated and still quite poorly understood Ganges River and its tributaries. To the north, the maps details the nomadic Tartar Tribes of Asiatic Russia, along with an open and inviting area showing the easternmost portion of the Northeast Passage, which would in the next several years be explored by Willem Barrentsz and others after him.

The De Jode atlas

This map appeared in the second edition, or re-issue, of Gerard De Jode's atlas, Speculum orbis terrae (first edition Antwerp: 1578), along with two pages of Latin text describing China printed on the verso . Gerard De Jode (1509-1591) released his atlas in a golden age of Dutch atlas production: the first atlas was released in 1570, also in Antwerp; the first town atlas in 1572, the first pocket atlas in 1577, the first regional atlas in 1579, the first nautical atlas in 1584, and the first historical atlas in 1595. The first atlas was Ortelius' Theatrum orbis terrarium, and De Jode's was intended as competition for that work. Mercator was also preparing an atlas at the time, and corresponded with Ortelius, but it would not appear in full until 1595, a year after Mercator's death.

Although the Speculum was ready as early as 1573, it was not published until 1578. This is most likely due to Ortelius' influence and his privilege over atlas production, which expired just before De Jode finally published. The atlas was the result of collaboration between De Jode, the geographer Jan van Schille of Antwerp, German physician Daniel Cellarius, and the etchers Joannes and Lucas van Doetecum.

Although never as successful as Ortelius' Theatrum, the Speculum did get republished in a second edition in 1593, two years after De Jode's death, by Arnold Coninx. It included this map, one of ten new maps added to the atlas. After his death, Gerard's son, Cornelis (1568-1600), and his wife, Paschina, ran the shop. Unfortunately, Cornelis died young in 1600, aged only 32, and the stock and plates were sold to the publisher Joan Baptista Vrients. Vrients had also recently purchased the plates for Theatrum, giving him a monopoly over Antwerp atlas publication. Vrients acquired the De Jode atlas plates only to suppress them in favor of the Ortelius plates, thus the De Jode atlas maps are quite rare on the market today.


Thanks to this publishing history, this map is among the rarest and most sought after of all printed maps of China. Worldcat lists only five institutional copies. It is one of the first maps to offer Europeans a glimpse of life in China and Japan and is therefore one of the most important for collectors of the cartography of China.

Condition Description
Old Color.