Million-dollar map finds permanent home at University

The Ricci map, created in 1602, will hang in James Ford Bell Library.

Jessica Van Berkel

The worldâÄôs second most expensive map is arriving at its permanent home at the University of Minnesota James Ford Bell Library next fall. The map, known as the âÄúImpossible Black Tulip,âÄù was charted by Italian missionary Matteo Ricci and is the first map to include both China and North America. It was acquired for the library in December by trustee Ford Bell, James Ford BellâÄôs son, for $1 million. The Waldseemüller map, the worldâÄôs most expensive map and the first to include the name âÄúAmerica,âÄù was purchased by the Library of Congress for $10 million in 2001. The Ricci map is currently on display next to the Waldseemüller map at the Library of Congress âÄî a rare occurrence, as that library usually only displays its own collection. But the Ricci map is no ordinary map. Created in 1602, it represents the meeting of the East and West, said map expert Daniel Crouch, who sold Bell the Ricci map in December. Ricci was a Jesuit priest who went to China in 1583 on a religious and trade mission. Ricci wanted to persuade the Chinese that his Western, Christian way of life was superior, Crouch said, and used his cartographic and scientific knowledge to do so. Ricci was a âÄúreal renaissance manâÄù who brought Western knowledge to China but was diplomatic about how he presented it, Crouch said. His diplomacy is evident in the placement of China, which called itself the âÄúMiddle Kingdom,âÄù at the center of the map. In praise of the Chinese emperor, lunar charts and scientific tables documenting the movement of the planets adorn the map. The map is a statement of what was known about the world at that time. It is in some ways surprisingly accurate but in other ways not at all, Bell said. One interesting imperfection is RicciâÄôs depiction of his native Italy, Crouch said. One of the few books and charts Ricci took with him on the journey to China was a map of Italy that was more than 100 years out of date and distorted the placement and shape of the country, Crouch said. Ricci may have purposefully drawn Italy inaccurately to protect the country against possible future attacks, he said. The map that is headed to the University is one of six copies in existence and the only one in North America. It is one of the highest quality copies, Bell said. The maps are block printings made from huge wooden slabs. The map is cut into six sections, each of which is about two feet wide and 6.5 feet long. Crouch, who works at a rare map and book store in London, purchased the map from Japan then sold it to Bell in 2008. The map will arrive in Minnesota in April but will be displayed at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts before finally coming to the University. The Bell LibraryâÄôs exhibition of the map, which opens Sept. 15, will be called âÄúMatteo Ricci and the Jesuits in China,âÄù library curator Marguerite Ragnow, said. Discussions of how the library will display the map and what programs could be created based on it are still in initial planning stages, she said. The map is not the most expensive item in the libraryâÄôs collection; its Portolan charts are priced between $3 million and $10 million depending on the market, Ragnow said. But the map is a âÄútremendous acquisitionâÄù that will bring a new audience to the library, she said. It is a perfect fit for the libraryâÄôs mission of the development of trade in the early period, Bell said. âÄúThere couldnâÄôt be any more iconic purchase for the library than the Ricci map.âÄù