USF's Museum Blog

Envisioning Asia in the Age of Exploration

University of San Francisco’s Ricci Institute — working closely with Museum Studies faculty member Catherine Lusheck — has teamed up this month with the Asian Art Museum and Sophia University in Tokyo to present an extraordinary series of events and exhibitions in San Francisco. This project celebrates and probes the ways that cartography has helped us make sense of our world over the centuries.   

imageLast week the exhibition China at the Center:  Rare Ricci and Verbiest World Maps opened at the Asian Art Museum. The exhibition, complete with items borrowed from University of San Francisco’s Rare Book Room collection, will remain on view until May 8, 2016. It was co-curated by Rev. M. Antoni J. Ucerler, S.J., Director of the USF Ricci Institute and Natasha Reichle, Associate Curator of Southeast Asian Art at the Asian Art Museum. Entry is free to all USF students, faculty and staff. The result of early collaborations between Jesuit priests and Chinese scholars sharing knowledge and curiosity about the world, the 1602 Ricci map, developed by Matteo Ricci while in China, is the earliest known Chinese map to depict the Americas. The 1674 Verbiest world map, created by Ferdinand Verbiest for the Chinese court, is being exhibited for the first time ever.

Through these large-scale woodblock-printed maps, visitors can discover how much of the world’s geography and ethnography was known at this early date, including the longest river in Africa, the peninsula of Florida, the fish-skin clothing of the far north and the feathered garb of Amazonian peoples. Two interactive digital displays reveal translations describing the peripheries of the “known world”: lands where giants paint their faces, oceans with mermaids and flying fish, and a kingdom inhabited by foot-tall humans who live in constant fear of being devoured by hawks.  For more information on this extraordinary project, click here.


A Complete Map of the World, 1674, by Ferdinand Verbiest (Flemish, 1623 – 1688). China: Beijing. Eight-panel wood block print, ink on paper. Geography and Map Collection, Library of Congress, Washington DC, G3200 1674.V4

As part of this collaborative project’s exploration of maps and map-making, San Francisco artists Hughen/Starkweather have been commissioned  by USF’s Thacher Gallery to create contemporary works about mapping the Pacific Ocean. Co-curated by Gallery Director Glori Simmons and Museum Studies alumna Nell Herbert (Museum Studies, MA, ’15) the artwork will be exhibited in the exhibition Adjacent Shores.  To view images and learn more about this collaboration, click here.

Augmenting the shows at the Asian Art Museum and Thacher Gallery is the exhibition Mapping “The East”: Envisioning Asia in the Age of Exploration.  It opens on March 30, 2016 in the Manresa Gallery at the St. Ignatius Church which, like the Thacher, is located on the University of San Francisco campus.


Abraham Ortelius, Asiae nova descriptio, 1570, Copper engraving, Collection of Sophia University, Tokyo

Mapping “The East”: Envisioning Asia in the Age of Exploration features twenty maps of of East Asia executed by early European cartographers including Ortelius, Mercator, Blaeu and Hondius from the 16th– 18th centuries. Hailing from the collections of Sophia University in Tokyo and the Ricci Institute, these works reflect not only expanding European geographic and cultural knowledge of East Asia in the early modern period, but also their early makers’ religious and philosophical backgrounds. The show, curated by University of San Francisco alumna, Madeline E. Warner (Art History/Arts Management, ’15), with the assistance of Prof. Catherine Lusheck (Art History/Arts Management & Museum Studies), remains on view through May 22, 2016. Manresa Gallery is free and open to the public, Tues-Fri 1 – 5 p.m. during the exhibition, and on Sunday between Masses and from 1-5 p.m.


Gerhard Mercator, Asia ex magna orbis terre descriptione desumpta studio et industria G. M. Iunioris, 1600, Copper engraving Collection of Sophia University, Tokyo

The community is invited to a free opening lecture at University of San Francisco on early maps by Professor Laura Hostetler (University of Illinois, Chicago) in Xavier Auditorium in Fromm Hall, followed by a reception in Manresa Gallery.  Two more exciting programs, also open to the public, are Matteo Ricci:  His Map and Music, a multimedia concert inspired by the Ricci’s world map (St. Ignatius Church, April 22, 7:30pm) and an International Symposium on Cartography titled Reimagining the Globe and Cultural Exchange:  From The World Maps of Ricci and Verbiest to Google Earth which will be held from April 22 – 24, 2016.

We thank the EDS-Stewart Endowment for the Study of Chinese-Western Cultural History, Asian Scholars’ Endowment, and Thomas J. Klitgaard Endowment at the USF Ricci Institute for their generous support.  For further and more updated information on these events please visit






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