The origins of the Selden map of China: scientific analysis of the painting materials and techniques

Kogou, Sotiria, Sarah Neate, Clare Coveney [et al.]. The origins of the Selden map of China : scientific analysis of the painting materials and techniques using a holistic approach. Heritage Science, 2016, vol. 4, n° 28. 24 p. DOI: 10.1186/s40494-016-0098-x

40494_2016_98_fig1_htmlSince the ‘rediscovery’ of the Selden map of China, an early seventeenth century map of Asia, in the Bodleian Library in Oxford, the importance of the map in our understanding of globalisation in the early seventeenth century has been recognised. One of the unresolved questions is the origin of the map. This paper addresses the question through material evidence provided by a holistic approach using a suite of complementary analytical techniques. The map was examined in situ and non-invasively by a remote spectral imaging instrument (PRISMS) modified for close range imaging, which was followed by a range of complementary techniques applied to a number of detached fragments, though most of the techniques are non-invasive and can be applied to the map directly in the future. The binding medium was found to be a gum, almost certainly gum Arabic, rather than the animal glue commonly used in Chinese paintings. Some of the pigments and their usage were found to be at odds with the common practice in paintings from China. The detection of gum Arabic, a binding medium used by the Europeans, South and West Asians and the use of a mixture of orpiment and indigo, commonly found in European, South and West Asian paintings gives further evidence on the unusual origins of this map. The likely detection of a basic copper chloride, such as atacamite, in the green areas suggests an influence from the South and West Asian rather than the European tradition. Detailed analysis of the various spectral bands of the spectral image cube along with visual inspection of the large scale colour image showed that the map was not fully planned at the beginning but rather painted in stages, at times by trial and error and that it was unfinished. A new hypothesis for the origin of the Selden map in Aceh Sumatra is proposed based on the new evidences.

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Monique Abud

Centre d'études sur la Chine moderne et contemporaine, EHESS, Paris, France

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