Copper type and engraving
38.5 x 26 cm
Gift, Sainctavit Estate
Paris, National Museum of Asian Arts - Guimet
The German Jesuit writer Athanasius Kircher (1602-80) published a work in Latin in Amsterdam in 1667, entitled China Monumentis qua Sacris qua Profanis... This far ranging compilation of general information on China was based on data supplied by various Jesuit missionaries who had toured China, Kircher never having visited the country.
The book was clearly a success because, the same year, another Dutch publisher released a pirated version. The following year a Dutch translation appeared, and in 1670, a French translation. The latter was produced in Amsterdam by the publisher of the Latin original. On the title page one can read:
La Chine d'Afhanase Kirchere de la Compagnie de Jesus, illustrée de plusieurs monuments tanf sacrés que profanes, ef de quanfifés de recherchés [sic] de la Nafure & de l'Art...
The text of the Latin version is supplemented with Father John, Grubers (1623-80) answers to questions from Ferdinand ll, Grand Duke of Tuscany, as well as a Chinese-French dictionary which may have been based on a dictionary prepared earlier by Father Matteo Ricci (1552 1610).
One of the reasons this book was so well-received is the content of the first portion, entirely dedicated to the 781 AD Nestorian stele found at Xian in 1623 or 1625, and which created quite a stir in the Christian community because it meant that Christianity had existed in an ancient period in China.
The Chinese and Syrian text of the stele was not only produced in a fold-out engraving, but it was also explained word by word and translated by the Polish Jesuit Michel Boym (1612-59).
Boym happened to be in Rome from 1653-55 bearing letters from the Catholic members of the family of Zhu Youlang (Yongli, 1611-62), the Ming pretender opposing the Manchu conquest of Southern China. These letters, also published in Kircher's work, let it be supposed that China might convert to Christianity.