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First European map focused on China; based on Marco Polo

Place/Date: Lyon / 1535
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Title: Tabula Superioris Indiae et Tartariae Majoris
Technique
Woodblock printing
Dimensions
35.5 x 51 cm (14 x 20 in)
Identifier
NL-00202
Coloring
Uncolored
Condition Rating
VG

Description

This is an attractive and bold impression of one of the most important early maps of East Asia available to collectors.

One of three entirely new maps that Laurent Fries (along with Johann Grüninger and Johann Koberger) introduced to the new 1522 edition of Ptolemy’s Geographia was this map of China and Japan. It is often referred to as the first printed map of the Far East, but a better description would be the first printed European map to focus on China and Japan (evidence for map creation in China is found as early as the 4th century BCE).

The map stretches from the Gulf of Thailand (Sinus Magnus – a term common on Ptolemaic maps) to Japan (Zinpangri), depicting all of China, Tartary, and much of Southeast Asia. It presents place names and geographical information from the writings of Marco Polo. Several regions of China are shown, including Tangut, Provinicia Mangi (Manchu), and Cathai (Cathay), next to which appears an image of the so-called King of the Tartars, the Great Khan, seated in his tent at the head of his army.

Vietnam is represented as ‘The Great Province of Champa’ (Cianba Provincia Magna), accompanied by a small illustration of a seated king. Further south is the province of Bocat, corresponding to Cambodia. Adjacent to the east is Lake Chiang Mai (Lamia Lacq).

Finally, there is Japan, which is drawn as a very large island plotted down where the Philippines should be. Two cities are depicted, Sinpaugen, which T. Suarez notes is probably just an arbitrary capital city based on the island name Zipangri, and Cobobe, a duplication from another Fries map. A note on the island relates that the people of Japan are idolatrous and refuse to pay customary tributes to the Chinese Emperor.

Verso text: Latin

Cartographer(s)

Laurent Fries

Laurent Fries (ca. 1485-1532) was a French physician and mathematician born in Mulhouse. His Geographia a Ptolemaic atlas based on his work with the famous Martin Waldseemüller, acheived great success, being published first in 1522, and reissued in 1525, 1535, and 1541.

Condition Description

Printed image in very good condition; water staining around edges of paper. Remnants of tape on verso (see image).

References

Suárez, Thomas. Early Mapping of Southeast Asia. Singapore: Periplus, 1999, p. 114-9.

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