22 December 2020

An article I read in The Guardian a couple of weeks ago has made me think of Francis Douce.

Douce (1757-1834) has already been mentioned twice in my blog as the donor of the Bodleian’s copy of the Red Decree and the small volume which contains what may be the first example of Chinese lithography. He is the subject of a brief article in Wikipedia, and here it is only necessary to point out that he built up an enormous collection of printed books and manuscripts that he bequeathed to the Bodleian, and that this bequest is one of the greatest gifts the Library ever received. In 1984 its sesquicentennial anniversary was marked by an exhibition, The Douce Legacy.

The Douce Chinese collection, numbering only some twenty items, consists almost entirely of illustrated books. This is understandable, as Douce was collecting in the period between the time when Chinese books were imported into Europe as curiosities – because nobody could read them – and later in the 19th century when the Protestant missionaries – who certainly could read them – brought back collections which for the first time could sustain serious sinological enquiry.

For the exhibition I chose what I think are two of the most interesting ones. After thirty-six years my choice would still be the same (but don’t look them up in the exhibition catalogue – they managed to get both captions wrong).

The first is indeed rare. It is a copy of Shixue 視學, a richly illustrated work on perspective in western art by Nian Xiyao 年希堯 (1671-1738):

視學 不分卷 / (清)年希堯撰
洋裝(原線裝)1冊 : 圖 ; 39公分
Douce Chin.b.2

Nian Xiyao was the elder brother of the more eminent Nian Gengyao 年羹堯 (1679-1726) [1], and had learned about perspective from the Jesuit missionary artist Giuseppe Castiglione (1688-1766) who had come to China in 1715. Castiglione was a master of painting trompe l’oeil designs, and had painted a trompe l’oeil dome on the ceiling of the Dongtang 東堂 Catholic church in Peking in 1729, the year in which Shixue was first published. (Castiglione and his colleagues would later delight the Qianlong 乾隆 emperor with their perspective work on the so-called “Western Mansions” 西洋樓 of Yuanming Yuan 圓明園. [2])

Nian acknowledges the help of Castiglione in his preface. Both had learned much from Andrea Pozzo’s influential work Perspectiva pictorum et architectorum (Rome, 1693), of which there was a copy among the books held in the libraries of the Jesuit missionaries in Peking in the early 18th century. The illustrations in Shixue are largely but not entirely derived from this.

The Douce copy is of the expanded version printed in 1735, which has considerably more illustrations, and is reproduced in its entirety (from microfilm) in Chuugoku no youfuugaten : minmatsu kara shinjidai no kaiga hanga sashiebon 『中国の洋風画』展 : 明末から清時代の絵画・版画・挿絵本 (Machida 町田, 1995), with the corresponding Pozzo illustrations alongside. It is identical in all respects with that reproduced in Xuxiu siku quanshu 續修四庫全書, which is the copy in the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The Library has another, lesser known work by Nian Xiyao, which I catalogue as follows:

綱鑑甲子圖 / (清)年希堯撰
1張 ; 112 x 57公分
背抄「Table chinoise des empereurs de la Chine」
Sinica 352

This work has never been regarded as part of the Douce Collection, but it is exactly the sort of thing that Douce collected. The same was true of our copy of the Red Decree until I sent it for conservation, when the faintly pencilled “F. Douce” was found on the verso.

Its provenance is not known, but the verso inscription “Table chinoise des empereurs de la Chine” suggests that it may have been among many other 18th-century works sent to Europe by the Jesuits, which according to Cordier [3] may have passed through the hands of L.F. Delatour, “ancien imprimeur-libraire et sécretaire du roi” before going on to the open market.

The Bibliothèque Nationale de France has copies of both Shixue and Gangjian jiazitu, possibly those which according to Elisabetti Corsi [4] were sent to Jean Jacques d’Ortous de Mairan, Secretary General of the  Académie Royale des Sciences, by the French Jesuit missionary Dominique Parrenin in 1733 or shortly after. It is equally possible that the Douce copies of both these works are of the same origin.

Other printed single-sheet items in the Douce Collection are found in two large guardbooks shelfmarked Douce.Chin.b.1 and Douce.Chin.c.1, the former labelled A collection of Chinese shop bills, &c., the latter containing printed illustrations. Among them are three Suzhou prints of which one is a unique surving copy. Christer von der Burg identified them a while ago, and wrote about them in his blog.

The second Douce item that I chose for the sesquicentennial exhibition in 1984 is what the article I read in the Guardian reminded me of. It is an illustrated manual of go strategies:

圍碁近譜 一卷 / (清)金樹志撰
線裝1冊 : 圖 ; 30公分
Douce Chin.d.2

Like Shixue, this edition is also rather rare; I have only found two copies in Peking University Libary, one in the Naikaku Bunko, and another in Columbia University Library.

Unusually, we know the exact provenance of the Bodleian copy. Douce bought it at a Christie’s sale in London on Friday 15 February 1799, where it was lot 16 of

“… a capital, and truly valuable assemblage of Chinese drawings, paintings, natural and artificial curiosities, the property of A.E. van Braam [Andeas Everard van Braam Houckgeest], Esq. Chief of the Direction of the Dutch Wast India Company at Canton, and Second in the Dutch Embassy to the Court of Pekin, in the years 1794 and 1795 …”

This information comes from Douce’s annotated copy of the sales catalogue, which is preserved in the Bodleian’s collection. [5] Intriguingly, the catalogue lists another work on weiqi (lot 18) in five volumes which along with his copy of Shixue also appears in one of Douce’s manuscript lists [6], but no trace of it can now be found.

The content of the Guardian article may well be common knowledge, but I certainly didn’t know it. It is about Hara Masahiro 原昌宏, an employee of the Japanese automobile components firm Denso Wave. Over twenty-five years ago he was looking for a better way of managing inventories of large numbers of parts than barcodes could provide, and the answer came to him when he was having a lunchtime game of go with a colleague. Looking at the way in which the black and white stones were arranged on the grid, he came up with the idea of the QR code, which can handle 200 times more information than a standard barcode.

1. Hummel 587-590.
2. See John R Finlay: The Qianlong Emperor’s western vistas: linear perspective and tromp l’oeil illusion in the European palaces of the Yuanming yuan (in Bulletin de l’Ecole française d’Extrême-Orient 94(2007), 159-193).
3. Henri Cordier: Catalogue des albums chinois et ouvrages relatifs à la Chine Conservés au cabinet des estampes de la Bibliothèque nationale (Paris, 1909), 210.
4. See Elisabetta Corsi: Envisioning perspective: Nian Xiyao 年希堯 (1671-1738)’s rendering of Western perspective in the prologues to “The science of vision”. In A life journey to the East: sinological studies in memory of Giuliano Bertuccioli (1923-2001), edited by Antonio Forte and Federico Masini (Kyoto: Scuola Italiana di Studi sull’Asia Orientale, 2002), 201-243.
5. Douce FF 65(5).
6. MS.Douce d.79, f45.


4 Responses to “Douce”

  1. zc Says:

    Elisabetta Corsi wrote an article on Shixue. She listed four copies, in Paris, St Petersburg, London, and Oxford; two copies in Beijing. The one in BuF is the first edition. The one in London was in the collection of the Indian Office.

    See Elisabetta Corsi.“Envisioning perspective: Nian Xiyao 年希堯 (1671-1738)’s rendering of Western perspective in the prologues to “The science of vision” “. In A life journey to the East, sinological studies in memory of Giuliano Bertuccioli (1923-2001), edited by Antonio Forte and Federico Masini. Kyoto: Scuola Italiana di Studi sull’Asia Orientale, 2002. pp. 201-243.

    • Zheng Cheng, many thanks for this! I didn’t know there was a copy in London, and will certainly look at the Corsi article. David.

      • zc Says:

        Dear David,
        Thank you very much for sharing the images of the letters to James Legge from Wang Tao online. I prepared a transcription and a short introduction which might be of some interest to you. I wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Cheng


  2. christervdb Says:

    Dear David,

    Thanks for this contribution. Interesting, as always, and very well written. I admire your style and language.

    I noticed what I think is a typo: The Finlay article is written before the medevials, 1007. I guess it should be 2007.

    I take the opportunity to wish you and Kumiko a very Merry Christmas.

    All the best.


    Sent from my iPad


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