Memory of Beijing

Art and scientific works

Updated: Dec 23, 2019 Print
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Apart from religious attainment, European missionaries in Beijing during the 17th and 18th centuries showed an aptitude for linguistics, astronomy, geography, mathematics, and cartography.

They followed the practical path the Italian Jesuit priest Matteo Ricci (1552-1610) had blazed in China to preach through introducing Western science and art so as to win the trust and esteem of the emperor and the elite class.

Although the Chinese emperors were never converted to Christianity, they were much impressed by the foreign priests' aptitude. They recruited them to the imperial court for service, employing their expertise to consolidate their rule and learn about the world beyond.

The missionaries’ science and art works, although largely confined to imperial and higher social classes, have always enlightened Chinese intellectuals in one way or another. Their legacies shine in the maps they charted, the calendars they developed with Western calculation methods, the astronomical instruments they devised, their introductory treatise on weaponry and geography, their translations of works of mathematics, the paintings they created with Western techniques, and the Baroque style garden structures they designed.

Extant works by them or credited to their influence are held in the permanent collections of China’s museums and universities. A selection from the Palace Museum is shown here.

Geography and cartography
In 1708, French and Austrian Jesuit missionaries were designated by the Emperor Kangxi (r. 1662-1722) to survey and map the territory of the Qing Empire, including locating the Great Wall and mapping its nearby waters. Their joint work with Chinese engineers yielded the first edition of the Map of Complete View of the Imperial Territory (Huangyu Quanlan Tu), which was printed and published in 1717. The British Sinologist Joseph Needham observed that this map was the best of all world maps in Asia, and more accurate that those in Europe at the time.

Detail of the 1717 woodblock print of Map of Complete View of the Imperial Territory ( Huangyu Quanlan Tu), contributed by the French Jesuit missionaries Joachim Bouvet (Chinese name Bai Jin, 1656-1730), Jean-Baptiste Régis (Chinese name Lei Xiaosi, 1663-1738), Pierre Jartoux (Chinese name Du Demei, 1668-1720) and the Austrian Jesuit missionary Xavie-Ehrenbert Fridelli (Chinese name Fei Yin, 1673-1743). Collection of the Palace Museum [Photo/]
Detail of the 1717 woodblock print of Map of Complete View of the Imperial Territory ( Huangyu Quanlan Tu) [Photo/]

Astronomy and calendar-making
Astronomy and calendar-making
Johann Adam Schall von Bell (Chinese name Tang Ruowan, 1591-1666) and Ferdinand Verbiest (Chinese name Nan Huairen, 1623-88) accurately computed and predicted a solar eclipse and other celestial phenomena, which won esteem from Chinese emperors. They were assigned with developing and rectifying the imperial calendar and with leading the imperial bureau for calendric-astronomical affairs. Some of their works are preserved in the Palace Museum -- the former imperial palace of the Ming and Qing dynasties.

A sun-moon-star dial inscribed with ‘COLON’ and the year 1541 in Roman numerals in the permanent collection of the Palace Museum in Beijing. It is believed that the instrument was brought by Johann Adam Schall von Bell to the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) imperial court. [Photo/]
Astronomical marks on the sun-moon-star dial. [Photo/]
Horizontal Sundial with the New Mechanism ( Xinfa Diping Rigui), a permanent collection of the Palace Museum, was presented as a tribute to the Emperor Shunzhi (r. 1644-61) in 1644 by the German Jesuit missionary Adam Schall von Bell (Chinese name Tang Ruowang, 1591-1666). It was made with the mechanism dominant in 17th-century Europe, rather than the traditional Chinese equatorial model. [Photo/]
The bottom of the horizontal sundial is inscribed in the center with information revealing that Johann Adam Schall von Bell, as a foreign official in charge of rectifying the calendar for the court, made and presented it to the emperor in 1644. [Photo/]
The Temporal Model Calendar ( Shixian Li) published empire-wide in 1645 with Qing imperial authorization. It was a luni-solar calendar developed by German Jesuit missionary Johann Adam Schall von Bell according to the Western calculation method. The Qing government adopted it to apply to its vast empire as a more scientific and accurate calendar. [Photo/]
The Temporal Model Calendar ( Shixian Li) records the movement of the sun, moon and five planets in the solar system (Jupiter, Mars, Venus, Saturn, and Mercury) along certain orbits with numbers of degrees. [Photo/]
The gilt silver armillary sphere was presented to the Qing imperial court in 1669. It is now in the collection of the Palace Museum. The manufacturing of this instrument was supervised by the Belgian Jesuit missionary Ferdinand Verbiest. Based on Ptolemy's geocentric theory, it demonstrates the motions of the celestial bodies including the sun and the moon circling the earth, and solar and lunar eclipses. [Photo/]
Verbiest's Chinese name is inscribed on a ring of the armillary sphere. [Photo/]


Several Catholic missionaries were recruited by the Qing government as court painters, including Italian Jesuit missionaries Giuseppe Castiglione (Chinese name Lang Shining, 1688-1766), Jean-Damascène Sallusti (Chinese name An Deyi, d.1781), Joseph Panzi (Chinese name Pan Tingzhang, 1733-1812), and Matteo Ripa (Chinese name Ma Guoxian, 1682-1746), French Jesuit missionaries Jean-Denis Attiret (Chinese name Wang Zhicheng, 1702-68) and Louis de Poirot (Chinese name He Qingtai, 1735-1814), and the Bohemian Jesuit missionary Ignatius Sichelbath (Chinese name Ai Qimeng, 1708-80).

They introduced the principles of perspective used in Western art to the Qing court, and worked together with Chinese painters for imperial commissions. Some of their works document significant historical events.

Father Giuseppe Castiglione served the Qing court for as long as 51 years and died in Beijing. He was buried in the Zhalan Cemetery in west Beijing. The Emperor Qianlong(r. 1736-95) respectfully composed and wrote the tomb tablet inscriptions for this diligent foreign missionary artist.

A leaf of the Victorious Quelling of the Rebellion of the West Regions ( Pingding Zhungeer Huibu Desheng Tu), the album of copperplate engraved prints based on the drawings of the Italian Jesuit missionaries Giuseppe Castiglioneand Jean-Damascène Sallusti, the French Jesuit missionary Jean-Denis Attiret, and the Bohemian Jesuit missionary Ignatius Sichelbath. The pictures show the battle scenes of the Qing troops against the uprisings by Zungar Mongolian and Uygur Muslim tribes led by the Khoja brothers in the 1750s. [Photo/]
One of the 12-leaf painting albums executed by Castiglione, depicting flowers and birds. The vermillion seals of the Qing emperors stamped on the page indicate that it was long cherished and well preserved by the Qing imperial family. [Photo/]
The Emperor Qianlong in Ceremonial Armor on Horseback, a painting by Giuseppe Castiglione dated 1739. The emperor's face, the horse he rides, the grasses in the foreground and the cumulous cloud in the distance are rendered by a Western painting technique. Collection of the Palace Museum [Photo/]




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