Thank you for your insightful comments on our Crocodile Mystery, which I enjoyed reading as usual. My heartfelt thanks also to Andrew Hare, Supervisory East Asian Painting Conservator, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art, for identifying the various papers and prints in the book; and to my Folger colleague Wenqi Han for locating a copy of the book Wan shou sheng dian chu ji: yi bai er shi juan.
This engraved folded plate indeed is inserted in a book written by the Italian Jesuit, Giovanni Filippo de Marini (1608-1682), Delle Missioni de’ Padri della Compagnia di Giesu nella Provincia del Giappone, e particolarmente di quella di Tumkino … printed in Rome by Nicolo Angelo Tinassi in 1663. The book is about the Jesuit missions mainly in Southeastern Asia with a focus on the region of Tonkin—the northern part of modern Vietnam—where Marini lived for 14 years, and to a lesser extent on the region of Laos located east of Vietnam. Although by the time of Marini’s book, Jesuits had been expelled from Japan they referred to the “Province of Japan” as the area including Macau and Southeast Asia.1
Marini’s book is not simply a description of the state of Christianity and the work of Jesuit missionaries in this part of the world. It is also a study of the society and the natural environment of Tonkin based on his direct observations. Interestingly, it is this latter section, which was highlighted in the title of the second edition published in 1665, which I suspect is really a reissue. Francois Le Comte, the translator the French edition published in 1666, went even further, by stripping off the text on Jesuit missions and only keeping Marini’s description of Tonkin and Laos de facto turning it into a book for armchair travelers (Le Comte also removed Japan from the title).
But let’s return to our folded plate. It depicts the galley of the king of Tonkin faithfully following Marini’s text.
The Jesuit describes a long and narrow royal ship with rich gilt decorations especially at the bow and the stern. A tent made of fine silk fabric with decorated mats on the floor is set at the front to protect the king from the sun.
At the stern, the captain stands on a bridge and indicates with a wooden stick the speed at which the soldiers—described by Marini as “fit and young”—need to row.
In the foreground, on the side of the river, two people are eating referring to Marini’s text which describes how the natural riches of the country provide ample food—especially fish and rice—for the population.
If the engraver, a certain Campanili, could follow Marini’s text, he clearly did not have a model to depict the people of Tonkin whom he represented with similar facial traits to those of Europeans. Likewise, the decorations on the galley are reminiscent of contemporary engraved ornaments. The face of the sun on the bow of the boat is no doubt a reference to royal power and to the glitter of the decorations, but no such sun is mentioned in Marini’s text.
This engraving is unusual—as many of you have noted—for having been printed on a decorated paper, which Ed correctly identified as a Japanese paper with Paulownia leaves and blossoms. Ironically, Paulownias were then associated in Japan with the military shogunate Tokugawa, under whose rule the Jesuits were expelled from the country.
A mixture of mica, ink and shell white was used to make the pattern. It created a thick layer on the paper, which could easily flake off when flexed or folded as is visible on our plate.
The paper used is known as Tori-no-ko and is still made to this day. Then as now, it was produced in large sheets and was often used to cover sliding doors. The main reason for the use of this paper to print the Campanili engraving must have been its beauty. Its yellow color may also have been associated with the gilt decorations on the royal galley. While the engraving in the Folger copy is unusual, it is not unique: other copies of Marini’s book are recorded with this print on a similar paper.2
There are three other prints in Marini’s book, which are also worthwhile mentioning here. None were printed on European-made paper. The print used as a frontispiece (located in different places in other copies) seems to have been printed on a Chinese Xuan paper dyed red3.
Such paper was often used for drawings or prints.
It is unclear why the dye did not apply on the whole leaf in our copy but one can see a magnificent example of it in the copy located in the National Library of Austria. It shows how striking this red paper must have appeared to European readers.4.
Red was an auspicious color in China. It may have been used specifically for this association as an auspicious sign for the Jesuit missions who were not always welcomed by local governments. The engraver, the Flemish Albert Clouet or Clouwet (1636-1679), specialized in religious prints while working first in Rome and then in Naples. His personification of the various countries visited by Jesuits and the overall paternalistic tone of his image are reminiscent of other contemporary prints depicting the European exploration of other continents.
It stands in sharp contrast, though, to the two other prints in the book depicting members of the upper classes of Tonkin: a soldier belonging to the royal guard
And a “literate Mandarin”:5
These engravings are distinct from Clouet’s and Campanili’s, as they seem to have been made after drawings by Vietnamese or perhaps Chinese artists.6 Jesuits, indeed, often collaborated with Chinese artists for their books destined either to local populations or to European audiences.7 Like the other prints in the book, these portraits are printed on a non-European-made paper, on the same sheet.8
Clearly much more work needs to be done on the four prints in Marini’s book. At this stage it is only possible to tell that they were printed on various papers made in different parts of East Asia and were made by different artists, some of them most likely Vietnamese or Chinese. As mentioned earlier, the Folger copy is not unique and prints in other copies of this book share some of the same features. The one in the National Library of Austria gives us an idea of why these were produced. A letter from Marini (itself written on a non-European paper) inserted at the end of the book indicates that he gave that copy to a religious dignitary (unfortunately his letter was digitized folded so that it is not possible to read the name of the dedicatee).
It is likely that the Jesuit planned to have a limited number of copies with engravings printed on Asian decorated and colorful papers. Different combinations of paper may have been inserted in different copies depending on the status of the dedicatee (in the copy from the National Library of Austria the four engravings were thus printed on a red dyed paper). I suspect, though, that all copies had their engravings printed on non-European paper.9
It is possible that these various papers were imported to Rome via Macau: a Jesuit and a trade hub through which transited numerous goods from China and Japan destined to the European market. After having spent 14 years in Tonkin, Marini had moved to Macau to become rector of the St Paul’s Jesuit college. He had then moved back to Rome where he was when his book was printed, as his letter in the National Library of Austria copy documents.
Marini’s book, written in Italian, was intended for a European audience rather than for populations in Tonkin and neighboring countries. As a matter of fact, the prominent place given to the “ethnographic” part of Marini’s text in the title of the 1665 edition seems to indicate that the author or publisher was trying to appeal to aristocratic European ‘curiosi’. It is possible that the printing of the engravings on non-European paper was intended to impress these potential customers.10 It may also be that Marini had a personal preference for Asian paper, which he was able to obtain in non-negligible quantity. As a matter of fact, his wish may have been to have his whole book printed on such paper unfortunately too thin to withstand metal type.
There is a final print I should mention here. It is a Chinese woodcut, which was inserted in the Folger copy by a later owner of the book.
This woodcut was made for a forty-volume set printed between 1717 and 1721 to celebrate the 60th birthday of the Kangxi Emperor.11 It is uncertain when and where this print was inserted in Marini’s book but it is tempting to think that someone in China did so. Could it have been done by a Jesuit dignitary in China?
Marini’s book is truly a fascinating hybrid book documenting the growing interest of Europeans for Asia in the seventeenth century not only through texts and images but also, perhaps more unusually, through paper.
Edits for clarity and precision made on 9/13/2021.
- My thanks to Professor Liam Brockey for having pointed out this to me.
- Carlos Sommervogel, Pierre Bliard, Augustin de Backer, Auguste de Carayon, Bibliotheque de la Compagnie de Jesus, Nouvelle Edition. Bruxelles: Oscar Schepens; Paris: Alphonse Picard, Bibliographie, tome V, page 582
- A fiber analysis needs to be done to confirm this.
- In the copy of the National Central Library of Florence, the dye was also applied correctly but bled on the edges of others leaves in the book.
- Marini uses the term “mandarin” indiscriminately in his book to describe any member of the upper and ruling classes.
- They could not have been engraved in China or Tonkin, as this intaglio technique only started being used in China in the eighteenth century. Likewise Jesuits do not seem to have brought rolling presses to Asia in the seventeenth century.
- See China on Paper: European and Chinese works from the Late Sixteenth to the Early Nineteenth Century, edited by Marcia Reed and Paola Demattè. Los Angeles, Calif. : Getty Research Institute, 
- Again, analysis of the fibers needs to be conducted to determine what type of paper was used.
- This is a hypothesis based on the examination of several digitized copies, which all seem to have been printed on such paper.
- Asian paper was then starting to be imported and used to print European intaglio prints most famously by Rembrandt.
- This woodcut is in juan 42, images 13 and 14, https://lccn.loc.gov/2014514444