USF & Asian Art Museum Partner in First Exhibition of Rare 17th-century Cartography

China at the Center Opens March 4

SAN FRANCISCO (Feb., 26, 2016) — The University of San Francisco’s (USF) Ricci Institute and the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco join together to present, China at the Center: Rare Ricci and Verbiest Maps, two extraordinary 400-year-old maps that are the product of early interactions between European and Chinese scholars. The 1602 Ricci map, developed by Matteo Ricci while in China, is the earliest known Chinese map to depict the Americas. The second, the Library of Congress copy of the 1674 Verbiest world map, created by Ferdinand Verbiest, is being exhibited for the first time ever.  The exhibition opens at the Asian Art Museum on March 4 and runs through May 8, 2016.

In the late sixteenth century, Jesuit missionaries traveled to China, where they learned about Chinese culture and shared scientific knowledge with their hosts. China at the Center presents two maps that were the result of this cross-cultural exchange. These massive woodblock-printed maps are physical representations of the joint scholarship of two very different cultures and show the world as it was perceived roughly four centuries ago.

A collaborative exhibit, China at the Center, is being co-curated by Rev. M. Antoni J. Ucerler, S.J., director of USF’s Ricci Institute, and Natasha Reichle, associate curator of Southeast Asian Art at the Asian Art Museum. The Ricci Institute for Chinese-Western Cultural History at USF is a global resource for the study of Chinese-Western cultural exchange with a core focus on the social and cultural history of Christianity in China. The Ricci Institute is credited for sourcing the two maps and bringing them to San Francisco for display.

“These remarkable 17th-century artifacts are not only cartographic treasures, but witnesses to a unique cultural exchange between East and West. These maps still have much to teach us today about how very diverse peoples can work together in the pursuit of scientific knowledge based on a common desire to understand better the world we live in,” said Fr. Ucerler. “We are honored to have worked in partnership with the Asian Art Museum to create this seminal display.”

Matteo Ricci: A Complete Map of the Ten Thousand Countries of the World

Dated 1602, the first of the two maps on display was made by Matteo Ricci (1552–1610), is one of only six complete copies in existence and the only copy in the United States. Ricci, one of the most influential Jesuit priests in China, was the first Westerner allowed regular entry into the Forbidden City. Roughly 5 feet by 12 feet, the Ricci map was printed on paper using intricately carved woodblocks. It is the first Chinese map to show the Americas, and the oldest extant map to incorporate both Eastern and Western cartography. The map was made at the court of the Wanli Emperor of the Ming Dynasty and was designed to integrate Jesuit understanding of science and cartography as well as Chinese knowledge of Asia. The resulting conception of the world, while based on a European model, reflects Chinese familiarity with the geography of Asia.

Ferdinand Verbiest: A Complete Map of the World

Ferdinand Verbiest’s (1623–1688) enormous 1674 map was made for the Kangxi Emperor of the Qing Dynasty. On loan from the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, this map has never before been exhibited before. It includes significant information about the Americas, as well as images and descriptions of strange and exotic animals of the world.

Both the Ricci and Verbiest maps are highly original in that they replaced the traditional European depiction of the Atlantic Ocean at the center by presenting the world from the vantage point of the Pacific Ocean, with China on one side, and California on the other.

USF students, faculty, and staff with a USF ID card will have free admission to the Asian Art Museum during the China at the Center: Rare Ricci and Verbiest Maps exhibit. Special membership rates are also available during the exhibit for USF students, faculty, and staff.

Media interested in covering the China at the Center exhibit, or interviewing co-curator Rev. M. Antoni J. Ucerler, S.J., please contact Anne-Marie Devine Tasto, USF’s senior director of Media Relations, at (415) 422.2697, or abdevine@usfca.edu.

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The University of San Francisco is located in the heart of one of the world's most innovative and stunning cities and is home to a vibrant academic community of students and faculty who achieve excellence in their fields. Its diverse student body enjoys direct access to faculty, small classes, and outstanding opportunities in the city itself. USF is San Francisco’s first university, and its Jesuit Catholic mission helps ignite a student's passion for social justice and a desire to “Change the World from Here.”