Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Happy Hour For Kircher: Two Martinis

by Stephen J. Gertz

When the seventeenth century Jesuit polymath, Athanasius Kircher, sat down to write China Monumentis (aka China Illustrata, 1667) in the mid-1660s he depended upon a tradition of Jesuit inquiry into the Celestial Empire dating back to the beginning of the century.

KIRCHER, Athanasius. China Monumentis, qua Sacris quà Profanis,
Nec non variis Naturae & Artis Spectaculis, Aliarumque rerum memorabilium
Argumentis Illustrata. Antwerpiae: Apud Jacobum à Meurs, 1667.

Extra engraved title page to China Monumentis.
China-based Jesuits Matteo Ricci and Alvaro Semedo provided early source material. Two books by one of the later Jesuits in China, however, were key references for Kircher, one of which, Atlas Sinensis (1655), exquisitely reprinted by Dutch cartographer and publisher Joan Blaeu as Novus Atlas Sinensis in 1659, was essential.

A "landmark in the European mapping of China was the appearance of the Atlas Sinensis in 1655. This was compiled by Father Martino Martini, an Italian Jesuit...Based on Chinese sources, it was far in advance of any previous European work. For the period it was remarkably accurate, being the first to show a more correct eastern coast-line with the Shantung promontory.

"Published in Amsterdam in 1655, it was incorporated at that date, and in the later editions, of the 'Great' atlas [of the world] issued by Blaeu. It consisted, besides text, of a general map of China, 15 maps of individual Chinese provinces, and a general map of Japan. As was usual with Blaeu's publications, it was offered for sale both plain and coloured. The Atlas Sinensis, apart from the technical excellence of its production, is important as being the first European atlas of China. It remained the standard georgraphical work on that country till the publication in 1737 of D'Anville's Atlas de la Chine.

"With the publication of the Atlas Sinensis, a new type of decoration arose. The title, instead of being enclosed within interlacing strapwork ornament, was now surrounded by large figures depicting the costume of the area shown intermingled with various products of the same.

"Embellishments in the map itself were rendered far less prominent or discarded altogether, decoration being confined to the large plaque or cartouche containing the title of the map. Sometimes an exception was made for the scale of miles, this also being treated pictorially, as in Van Loon's map of China" (Tooley, Maps and Map-makers).

"Describing Martino Martini with evident pride as 'once my private student in mathematics' at the College Romano, Kircher remarked on the conversations he enjoyed with his former pupil when Martini returned to Rome as procurator for the Jesuit vice-province of China...

"...Martino Martini himself provided Kircher with a vast number of measurements [magnetic] made during his voyages, from Portugal to Cape Verde and Azores, from Goas to Macao. Martini was also perhaps the most optimistic among Kircher's correspondents about the possibility of solving the famous problem of longitude (Findlen, The Last Man Who Knew Everything, pp. 392, 248).

While Kircher relied heavily upon Martini's Novus Atlas Sinensis when writing China Monumentis, Martini's Sinicæ Historiæ Decas Prima (History of China, 1659) was also an important influence, contributing much more to Kircher's knowledge of the Celestial Empire than the 171 pages of text in Atlas Sinensis.

MARTINI, Martino. Sinicae Historiae decas prima. Res à gentis origine
ad Christum natum en extrema Asia, sive Magno Sinarum Imperio gestas
complexa. Amstelaedami: Apud Joannen Blaeu, 1659. 
Second, rarer than the first, edition.

Martino Martini was a "distinguished Austrian Jesuit missionary to the Chinese, in the seventeenth century. He was born at Trent in 1614; and on 8 October 1631, entered the Austrian province of his order; where he studied mathematics under Athanasius Kircher in the Roman College, probably with the intention of being sent to China. He set out for China in 1640, and arrived in 1643.

"While there he made great use of his talents as missionary, scholar, writer and superior. In 1650 he was sent to Rome as procurator for the Chinese Mission, and took advantage of the long, adventurous voyage (going first to the Philippines, from thence on a Dutch privateer to Batavia, he reached Bergen in Norway, 31 August 1653), to sift his valuable historical and cartographical data on China.

"During his sojourn in Europe the works were printed that made his name so famous. In 1658 he returned with provisionally favourable instructions on the question of ritual to China, where he laboured until his death in Hangtscheu, 6 June, 1661. According to the attestation of P, Prosper Intorcetta ("Litt. Annuae". 1861); his body was found undecayed twenty years after. Richthofen calls Martini 'the leading geographer of the Chinese mission, one who was unexcelled, and hardly equaled, during the eighteenth century . . . There was no other missionary, either before or after, who made such diligent use of his time in acquiring information about the country.' (China, I, 674 sq.)

"Martini's most important work is his Novus Atlas Sinensis, with 17 maps and 171 pages of text, a work which is, according to Richthofen, 'the most complete geographical description of China that we possess, and through which Martini has become the father of geographical learning on China." Of the great chronological work which Martini had planned, and which was to comprise the whole Chinese history from the earliest age, only the first part appeared: Sinicæ Historiæ Decas Prima (Munich, 1658).

"His De Bello Tartarico Historiæ (Cologne, 1654) is also important as Chinese history, for Martini himself had lived through the frightful occurrences which brought about the overthrow of the ancient Ming dynasty. The works have been repeatedly published and translated into different languages (cf. Sommervogel, "Bibliothè" . . . etc.).

"Interesting as missionary history is his Brevis relatione de numero et qualitate Christianorum apud Sinæ (Rome, 1654; Cologne, 1655; Ger. ed., 1654). Besides these, Martini wrote a series of theological and apologetical works in Chinese. Several works, among them a Chinese translation of the works of Suarez, still exist in his handwriting (cf. Sommervogel and H. Cardier, Essai d'une bibliographie des ouvrages publié en Chine parles Europé, Paris, 1882)" (Catholic Encyclopedia).

Athanasius Kircher was the hub around which European science centered; his network of correspondents was vast and he was the conduit for much if not most of the diffusion of scientific knowledge of his age. China Monumentis, which collected in one volume all that was then known about China, popularized the mysterious and distant land and its curiosities to a Europe thirsty for knowledge. When Athanasius Kircher was thirsty for information about China he reached for a Martini.

MARTINI, Martino. Novus Atlas Sinensis. Amsterdam: Joan Blaeu, 1655. First edition thus (originally published 1655). Folio. [12], 171, [25], xij, 33, [3] pp. Extra engraved titlepage. Seventeen double-page hand colored maps.

Cordier 182. Koeman 1, BI 53.

Images of Novus Atlas Sinensis courtesy of California State University, East Bay.

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