KUNYU QUANTU (A Map of the Whole World), by Ferdinand Verbiest, 1674. China

Kunyu Quantu Map of the Whole World
Kunyu Quantu Map of the Whole World

Custodian: University of Glasgow Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery

Reference: GLAHM E.289

The map showing the two hemispheres of the world in the Hunterian collection was designed for the Second Qing Emperor of China, Kangxi (1662-1722) by the Jesuit Father Ferdinand Verbiest (1623-88), in 1674.

Verbiest was one of a handful of Jesuits who were employed at the Chinese court during the 17th-18th century and who introduced ideas of Western science to China. Printed from woodblocks using Mercator's projection, the map was part of a larger geographical work called Kunyu tushuo (Illustrated Discussion of the Geography of the World) and called: Kunyu wanguo quantu (A Map of the Myriad Countries of the World, which included information on different lands as well as the physical map itself.

It was one of a series of maps produced by the Jesuits at the Court in Peking, beginning with Matteo Ricci's two woodcut maps of 1584 and 1602. The map consists of two hemispheres of approximately five feet square, each with cartouches containing information on the size, climate, land-forms, customs and history of various parts of the world and details of natural phenomena such as eclipses and earthquakes. Columbus' discovery of America is also discussed. Images of ships, real and imaginary animals and sea creatures pepper both hemispheres, creating a visually stunning as well as historically important object.

The map is very rare. In Britain, only the British Library has a copy (in the Phillips Collection), which increases the significance of the example in the Hunterian. (Professor Nick Pearce, Department of History of Art, University of Glasgow, 2005)

Catalogue entry here.