Monday, July 23, 2012

Dapper Days in China

Engravings of religious, civic and natural scenes of China
as understood or believed by Europeans in the 1670s



17th century European book illustration of China



17th century European book illustration of China



17th century European book illustration of China



17th century European book illustration of China



17th century European book illustration of China



17th century European book illustration of China



17th century European book illustration of China



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17th century European book illustration of China



17th century European book illustration of China



17th century European book illustration of China



17th century European book illustration of China



17th century European book illustration of China



17th century European book illustration of China



17th century European book illustration of China



17th century European book illustration of China



17th century European book illustration of China


[All the images have been cropped but I don't recall doing much
in the way of background cleaning or any other adjustments]


Despite never leaving his homeland, Amsterdam clergyman and doctor, Olfert Dapper (1635-1689), became an historical travel writer during the Dutch ascendancy in the Golden Age of exploration and discovery*.

The book featured above was just one title from a renowned body of work Dapper turned out, introducing an enthusiastic public to little known exotic locations from around the world. What Dapper may have lacked in first hand experience, he more than made up for in academic diligence over a quarter of a century of painstaking geographical and ethnological research.

After publishing an initial history of Amsterdam in the early 1660s, Dapper went on to write valuable and well respected books on Africa (his best-known), Persia, Asia, Georgia, Arabia and, of course, China. Far from being mere repetitions of earlier works though (as I admit I was expecting to discover), Dapper's books appear to have been rather exceptional in the world of educational scholarship for their time:
"Dapper avoided all ethnocentric connotations and became the first person to adopt an interdisciplinary approach, weaving together the separate threads of geography, economics, politics, medicine, social life and customs. Unlike some of his contemporaries, Dapper produced a genuine work for posterity, not just a compendium of exotic curiosities." [source]
The illustrations for Dapper's 'Description of China' were undoubtedly produced by Jacob Van Meurs, a fellow countryman with his own celebrated reputation as cartographic engraver, who collaborated with Dapper on a number of projects. The visual recording of the country runs the gamut from what is likely faithful renderings of idols and religious and civil buildings from Taiwan and the Mainland, to mystical approximations or downright absurdities and fanciful botanical and biological specimens.

A few of the illustrations are obviously produced by, or copied after, traditional Chinese artists. Dapper relied on a large number of sources, including first hand visitor reports, and it's logical to assume that some of the illustration work was modelled after earlier efforts or became exaggerated the further away from the original source or travel report they got. If you publish a new style of book (travel literature) with outlandish and fabricated pictures that can't be readily checked for accuracy, so much the better for publicity and profits no doubt.

6 comments :

Jacqueline M. said...

However make-believe, these are pretty interesting.

the stealth m.c. said...

These are brilliant! I feel like he got the spirit of being Chinese right, if not the details. At least, this is how I see myself in my head ...

peacay said...

That's actually how I felt : I haven't been to China (I've been about 200metres away) but I spent a lot of time in N. Vietnam, and I sensed something grand and mystical AND odd in the regional air and culture. The spirit, yes. Good thing too!

nickyskye said...

These are marvelous. I enjoyed every one. No doubt these must have been incredibly exciting to the people of the time, whose ability to travel was limited. They're exciting know to see how he put the ethnographic jigsaw puzzle pieces together so beautifully, with such spirit.

bowsprite said...

Kitchen God flying on a crane!
this is way better than the real thing. This journey is through the mind of Olfert Dapper!

city said...

thanks for sharing.

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