A Blue Map of China #Frieze
It was hanging there with majesty, an imposing size, a jaw-dropping blue: our favorite blue piece at the Frieze Art Show 2015 was a gigantic blue map presented by Daniel Crouch Rare Books, a specialist dealer in antique atlases, maps, plans, sea charts and voyages dating from the 15th to the 19th centuries.
Untitled Complete Geographical Map of the Everlasting Unified Qing Empire, this woodcut map printed in 16 sections on eight sheets actually represents… the world, the world according to 18th century China.
Anything Blue at the Frieze Art Show 2015?
Every year in October comes the Frieze, then the FIAC fair, two rendez-vous for art lovers that successively take place in London and Paris. With a foot in each city, Anything Blue’s sister team was on the lookout for the best blue art pieces. As the color blue is getting more and more popular in the art world, we had a lot to see. We’ve walked by a gorgeous Yves Klein, a blue portrait of Audrey Hepburn by Pure Evil, and we’ve eventually found ourselves friezen in front of this striking blue “Map of the World” – or in other words, China.
What is this 18th century blue map all about?
The “Central Kingdom” of the world, China, is represented at the center of the map – the World and China being almost synonymous at the time of the Quing dynasty. Neighboring countries such as Russia, India, Siam, Vietnam, Japan and Korea are represented on the fringe, dominated by the Quing-dom. The Netherlands and the United Kingdom are also featured on the top left corner, as islands of the “Great Western Ocean” (the Atlantic Ocean), just next to the “Small Western Ocean” (the Mediterranean Sea).
A political manifesto and celebration of the unity of all the Chinese provinces under the Qing dynasty, this blue map also features precise geographical details for administration purposes.
The ocean is featured in turquoise, while the inland territories are represented in cobalt blue. You can notice topographical details of strategic importance, such as mountains and waterways (Yellow River, Yangtze, Minjiang River), the famous Great Wall of China, and a sophisticated system of pictograms and symbols in the map key, described below:
‘Its surface is dotted with provincial capitals (sheng), a square with a small rectangle on top; prefectures (fu), a square; independent district magistrates (zhilizhou), a square with a triangle on top; departments (zhou), a vertical rectangle; sub-prefectures (ting), a diamond; districts (xian), a circle; frontier passes (guan), a small building; local headmen or western tribute states (tusi), a triangle; with the name appearing within each pictogram. The borders of each province are denoted by dotted lines.’ – Daniel Crouch Rare Books
The present blue map dates back to 1811, however the original (smaller) version of the Complete Geographical Map of the Everlasting Unified Qing Empire by Huang Qianren was first presented to the Qianlong emperor in 1767. A painted copy of the map was produced in 1800 by Huang Zhengsun (today in the Beijing National Library) before an enlarged version was created, eleven years later.
‘This  version was printed in two colours: blue and white, and black and white. There are examples of this version in the Maclean Collection in Chicago, the Library of Congress, and the Beijing National Library.’ – Daniel Crouch Rare Books
More than a beautiful cartographic document, this gorgeous blue map is a piece of history and illustration of China’s identity.
I’m in love. How much?
Asking price: £400,000.
Source: Daniel Crouch Rare Books — quoting Richard A. Pegg, Cartographic Traditions in East Asian Maps (Hawai’i: Maclean Collection and University of Hawai’i Press, 2014), 18–27; Yan Ping et al., China in Ancient and Modern Maps, (London: Philip Wilson for Sotheby’s Publications, 1998), 141.