Ferdinand Verbiest 1623-1688, Kunyu Quantu (A Map of the Whole World)

Artist: Ferdinand Verbiest 1623-1688

Title: Kunyu Quantu (A Map of the Whole World)

Date: 1674

Medium: woodblock print on paper lined with linen

Dimensions: approx. 168 x 307cm

Acquisition: William Hunter bequest, 1783

Accession number: E.289

The Hunterian, University of Glasgow, UK

EMu user since 2012

Ferdinand Verbiest 1623-1688, Kunyu Quantu (A Map of the Whole World)William Hunter’s collecting interests were truly encyclopaedic. Sometime between 1765 and 1779 Hunter purchased the library of Heinrich Walter Gerdes (d. 1742), a Lutheran pastor in London and Fellow of the Royal Society. Amongst Gerdes’s collection was a copy of Ferdinand Verbiest’s Map of the Whole World, which the deceased had acquired from Theophilus (Gottlieb) Siegfried Bayer (d. 1738), Professor of Greek and Roman Antiquities in St Petersburg, who had connections to Jesuit missionaries in Beijing.

Ferdinand Verbiest’s map is a rare survival of early global cartography produced by Jesuit missionaries in China, who were welcomed by the Imperial Court on account of their scientific knowledge, particularly of mathematics and astronomy. In 1669 the Flemish Jesuit Ferdinand Verbiest was appointed director of the Imperial Observatory. The second Manchu Qing emperor, Kangxi (1662-1722) was concerned with consolidating his power and so required reliable maps of the empire and the world beyond.

The map reflects many of the tensions in Western and Chinese cartography in the seventeenth century. Western map makers were concerned with perspective and scale, while their Chinese counterparts did not think this was important. Here we see mountains drawn in elevation and rivers in plan. To compensate for the absence of an accurate scale, the map is heavily annotated.

Based on Mercator’s projection, the map consists of two hemispheres showing the five continents as they were known at the time: Asia, Africa, America and Magellanica (the uncharted southern part of the globe). Cartouches record information on the size, climate, landforms, customs and history, together with details of natural phenomena, such as eclipses and earthquakes. Columbus’s discovery of America is also noted. Images of ships, together with real and imaginary animals and sea creatures taken from Western sources, create a visually stunning effect.


© The Hunterian, University of Glasgow. 2012. Accession Number E.289