Veneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana, Milan, Italy
Giulio Aleni (1582-1649) was a Jesuit missionary, astronomer, scholar, mathematician and geographer from Brescia. He was sent to China at a young age where he stayed for almost forty years. He was a great admirer and connoisseur of Chinese culture, who also learnt Chinese language and taught mathematics for some years without losing his religious objectives. Following the footsteps of Matteo Ricci (1552-1619), another great cartographer and Jesuit missionary in the east, he published this map. Aleni’s ancient Chinese planisphere was printed in Hangzhou in 1623 together with his geographical publication, Zhi fang wai. With the Chinese expression Kunyo Wanguo Quantu (literally “a map of the ten thousand countries in the world”) the oldest Chinese world map was made by Marco Ricci in 1602 with similar style of European maps, which clearly inspired the one in the Ambrosiana collections.
In this Kunyo Wanguo Quantu, as well as in that of Marco Ricci, a particular detail that immediately catches the eye is the central positioning of the Pacific Ocean. This choice places the New World on the right instead of the left and leaves China to the center of the map. The prime meridian is placed between the Azores and Cape Verde Islands while the central meridian is on the east side of Japan. With this placement the two Jesuits intended to remeasure Chinese people’s expectations of their country compared to the rest of the world (“China did not even occupy the thousandth part of the world, which was against their beliefs as their cosmographers had described and written that China contained three of the four parts of the world” -M. Ricci) Compared to Ricci’s map, the fundamental contribution in geographical terms of this planisphere is the separation of New Guinea from the great Southern continent.
Pirri P., «ALENIS (Aleni), Giulio (in cinese Ai Ju-lüeh ssu-chi)», in Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani, Volume 2, Roma, Istituto dell’Enciclopedia Italiana, 1960;
Cretti G., Xiu Feng Huang, La Cina nella cartografia da Tolomeo al XVII secolo: i mappamondi di Matteo Ricci e Giulio Aleni, Fondazione Civiltà Bresciana “Giulio Aleni” e Fondazione Internazionale P. Matteo Ricci di Macerata, 2011;
Giulio Aleni (1582-1649) was a Jesuit missionary, astronomer, scholar, mathematician and geographer from Brescia.
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Pinacoteca Ambrosiana was established in 1618 by cardinal Federico Borromeo, when he donated his art collection to the Ambrosiana library, which was founded by him as well in 1607. The building was named after the patron saint of Milan, St. Ambrose. It was the first museum in the world to be open to the public. The history of the Pinacoteca and the library goes hand in hand, as this was also the first library to be open to the public. The book collection includes prestigious volumes, among them Petrarch’s Virgil with illuminated manuscript by Simone Martini and Da Vinci’s Codex Atlanticus, donated in 1637 by Galeazzo Arconati. In fact, cardinal’s plan was to display art with its symbology and evocative power to serve Christian values reaffirmed by the Council of Trent (1545-1563), which were threatened by the diffusion of the Protestant reformation. The academy was added in 1637 and transferred to Brera in 1776. It was supposed to be an artistic school of painting, sculpture and architecture which would allow the students to learn from the great models of the history.
The building was designed by architect Fabio Mangone (1587-1629) and it is located in the city center. The space is expanded over 1500 square meters and divided into twenty-two rooms. The cardinal illustrated the works and the objects himself in his book in Latin, Museum (1625), which still today represents the main nucleus of the Pinacoteca. Through commissions and purchases Federico Borromeo’s collection grew with the paintings of Lombard and Tuscan schools, among them works by Raphael, Correggio and Bernardino Luini and casts from Leone Leoni’s workshop, arriving to a total of 3000 artworks of which 300 are exhibited. There are great masterpieces such as the Portrait of a Musician by Leonardo Da Vinci (1480), Madonna del Padiglione by Botticelli (1495), the cartoon for the School of Athens by Raphael (before 1510), the Holy Family with St. Anne and Young St. John by Bernardino Luini (1530) and the Rest on the Flight into Egypt by Jacopo Bassano (1547).
A great part of the collection is dedicated to landscape and to still life, because the Cardinal saw the nature as an important tool raising the human mind into the Divine. For this reason, Federico collected Caravaggio’s Basket of Fruit and the miniature paintings by Jan Brueghel and Paul Brill.
After the cardinal’s death the collection was enriched with the donations of the artworks from 15th and 16th centuries, such as the frescoes by Bramantino and Antonio Canova and Bertel Thorvaldsen’s marble self-portraits. Museo Settala, one of the first museums in Italy, founded by canonical Manfredo Settala (1600-1680), was joined to Pinacoteca Ambrosiana in 1751. The museum is a sort of science history museum with a variety of curiosities of all time.
During the period of growth, the museum required some structural and architectural changes as well, including the expansion of the exhibition halls between 1928 and 1931, which were decorated with 13th century miniature motifs of Ambrosian codes, and between 1932 and 1938 a new series of restorations was implemented under the guidance of Ambrogio Annoni. The renowned readjustment in 1963 was curated by architect Luigi Caccia Dominioni and the museum excursus was concluded with the current reorganization between 1990 and 1997.