Ricci, Matteo (1552-1610). Trigault, Nicolas (1577-1628)

De Christiana Expeditione apud Sinas suscepta ab Societate Iesu ex P. Matthaei Riccii eiusdem Societatis co[m]mentariis libri V. Ad S.D.N. Paulum. V. In quibus Sinensis Regni mores, leges atq[ue] instituta & novae illius Ecclesiae difficill[iss]ima primordia accurate & summa fide describuntur. Auctore P. Nicolao Trigautio Belga ex eadem societate.

Augsburg: Christoph. Mangius, 1615                                               $24,000
Quarto: 19.2 x 15.5 cm. a , b , A-4N , [chi] (final leaf blank and present.) With the engraved title page and the folding plan both present.2773


A fine copy bound in strictly contemporary limp vellum, soiled, lacking ties. The text is in truly excellent condition with a little fraying to the outer, blank margin of the engraved title, which shows Matteo Ricci and Blessed Francis Xavier in an architectural framework, flanking Ricci’s map of China. The folding plan, showing the church where Ricci’s tomb is located, is also present and in excellent condition. Provenance: With the collector’s stamp (Lugt 3285) of the Wroclaw architect Albrecht of Sebisch (1610-1688) in the blank margin of the title page. Stamp “Vrhedigersch. Stadtbibliothek zu Breslau” (Wroclaw) on the verso.

The Jesuits were convinced that they had to understand China in order to win converts. Accordingly, they adopted Chinese names, dress, and language, traveled extensively, and immersed themselves in Chinese language, philosophy, art, and literature. Ricci was the first Western scholar to master Chinese, and he brought Confucian philosophy to the West. At the same time, Ricci brought to China western mathematics, scientific instruments, cartography, and astronomy, in part through his published works in Chinese, thereby ushering in a new era of Chinese understanding of the world. In 1592 Ricci famously predicted a solar eclipse with greater accuracy than the court astronomers. As a result, the emperor invited Ricci to Peking.

Ricci studied in Rome, before traveling to Goa in 1578, where, apart from a period at Cochin, he remained until he traveled to China via Macao in 1582. Ricci, together with Michele de Ruggieri and other missionaries, gradually penetrated further into mainland China and established residences at Chaoch’ing in 1583 and Shaochow in 1589. From 1589, at the latter residence, Ricci adopted the dress of an educated Chinese and, due to his proficiency with Mandarin, dispensed with the services of interpreters. Despite various setbacks, Ricci’s knowledge of the sciences, astronomy, and geography became appreciated by the authorities, and in 1600 Ricci was invited to enter Peking by Emperor Wan-li. Ricci arrived in the city in 1601, and a residence was established there in 1606, where Ricci was based until his death in 1610. During this period he translated a number of works into Chinese (including the first six books of Euclid), which both enhanced his reputation in cultivated Chinese circles and served to propagate Christian theology; however, his reputation stems principally from his letters and his journal, which was posthumously published under the title De christiana expeditione apud Sinas (Augsburg: 1615), edited by the Jesuit Nicolas Trigault, who brought the manuscript back from China to Europe

Trigault’s work was “the most influential description of China to appear during the first half of the 17th century. Trigault, the procurator of the Jesuits’ China mission, translated and augmented the pioneer missionary Matteo Ricci’s journal, aiming to elicit support for the mission. The ‘De Christiana Expeditione’, therefore, is essentially a translation of Ricci’s Journal. Trigault, however, did not merely translate the journal; he omitted or changed many passages, rearranged its parts, and added material from other Chinese missionaries to complete the story and to depict China and the Jesuit mission in a more favorable light. The resulting volume contains a history of the Jesuit mission in China from its inception in 1583 until Ricci’s death in 1610, the same year in which Trigault arrived in China. It includes a wealth of information about China in the chapters describing Chinese geography, people, laws, government, religion, learning, commerce and the like. The ‘De Christiana Expeditione’, despite its departures from Ricci’s original journal, provided European readers with more, better organized, and more accurate information about China than was ever before available.” (Lach, Asia in the Making of Europe, III.512)

De Backer-Sommervogel VIII, 239, 6; Streit V, 2094; Cordier, Sinica 809; Löwendahl, Sino-Western Relations, Vol. I, p. 29 ff. No. 54; J. Gernet, China and the Christian Impact (1985) p. 7; Mungello, Curious Land: Jesuit accommodation and the origins of Sinology, Ch. 2; ON the provenance stamp, see Lugt, Les Marques de Collections de Dessins & d’Estampes, 3285