Religious Cartography

Religious Cartography and the Cosmological Imagination by Daniel Tuzzeo

In addition to aiding in geographic navigation, scientific observation, and political demarcation, maps serve a narrative, almost novelistic, function. As the eye glides effortlessly over foreign and familiar landforms and across once seemingly boundless seas, the cartographer’s craft is capable of leading the map reader on fantastic imaginary voyages. Allowing one to see far beyond her own, limited scope of vision, panoptic maps depicting cities, nations, and the world itself implicitly entreat the viewer to assume the role of an all-seeing, omnipotent deity. This divine vision is exhibited most explicitly through religious cartography, in which physical features observable by the human eye are but supplemental to the greater cosmological imagination.

This exhibit invites you to embark on an imaginative journey of your own through a limited curation of religiously inflected cosmological maps from South Asia, East Asia, and Europe. Explore Jain and Buddhist cosmographs that share spatial features appropriated from earlier Brahmanical cosmological narratives. Pass through the Chinese Silk Road outpost of Dunhuang, where local clerics produced a map of the Buddhist cosmos, annotated with references from a complex philosophical treatise. Encounter Jesuit missionaries’ attempts to assert cultural and religious superiority over their Chinese hosts through Western cartographic advances. Uncover the more sublime manifestations of the Christian cosmological imagination in Europe before concluding the journey with the eighteenth-century Japanese monk, Hōtan’s, Buddhist world map which integrates elements of Indic, Buddhist, European, and Jesuit cartographic traditions, resulting in one of the most unique and imaginative maps ever produced.

[ Cosmological Diagram - The World of Mortals]
Cosmological Diagram - The World of Mortals Unknown [India, ca. 1850]
Buddhism and Jainism arose roughly 2,500 years ago in northern India, with each community freely appropriating and modifying pre-existing Brahmanical theories about the nature, structure, and origins of the inhabited world and wider unseen universe. Competing views of the central axis mundi, Mount Sumeru (or Meru) and southern island continent, Jambudvīpa, can be seen in the map from the Buddhist historiographical compendium, Fozu tongji (ca. 1258-1269, China) as well as the Jain cosmological map (ca. 1850, India).
Region Elementaire ou Sublunaire qui Comprend Les Corps Simpes qui Sont Elements, divisez en Legers et Pesans: et Les Corps Mixtes, divisez en Imparfais, et les Parfais; Les Meteores et les Minereaux Sont les Imparfais, et les Parfais Sont les Plantes et les Animaux. Nouvelle edition revue, corrigee et augmentec par le Sieur Greg. Mariette Parisien, a Paris ... 1696
"Region Elementaire ou Sublunaire qui Comprend Les Corps Simpes qui Sont Elements, divisez en Legers et Pesans" Grégoire Mariette Paris: 1696; orig. Italy, 1582
Though embracing European scientific and cartographic advances, Ricci and the Jesuits were steeped in a rich tradition of Christian cosmological imagination and cartographic interpretation, which continued to persist long after the rise of scientific and cartographic advancements. Konrad Miller’s nineteenth century “Monialium Ebstorfensium mappa mundi,” facsimile seen here, is a reproduction of an archetypal T-and-O map from the thirteenth century (Stuttgart, 1898; orig. Ebstorf, 13th c.), and Grégoire Mariette’s depiction of the structure and activities of the cosmos is based on a 1582 Italian map (1696).
Ri Matō Konʼyo bankoku zenzu
Complete Map of the World's Myriad Countries (Kunyu Wanguo Quantu 坤輿萬國全) Matteo Ricci and Li Zhizao; printed by Zhang Wentao [China, 1602]
When the Italian Jesuit mission reached China in the late sixteenth century, Chinese Buddhists, officials, and scientists were confronted with an entirely foreign cosmological system that challenged religious, geographical, and political worldviews, as seen here in Matteo Ricci’s “Complete Map of the World's Myriad Countries” (1602, Beijing), labeled and annotated in Chinese.
Nanzenbushu bankoku shoka no zu. Rokashi. Hoei 7 (1710)
“Map of the Myriad Countries of Jambudvīpa” (南瞻部洲万国掌菓之図 Nanzenbushu bankoku shoka no zu) Hōtan 鳳潭 Kyoto: 1709
The Japanese Tendai monk, Hōtan, was exceptionally well-educated. His detailed production of the “Map of the Myriad Countries of Jambudvīpa” (Kyoto, 1709) integrates elements from Indic, Chinese, and European cosmological and cartographic traditions including both textual and visual as well as narrative, historical, and schematic materials. Though modeled graphically on a complete world map in the Western tradition, Hōtan’s map is limited to a small fraction of the inhabited world in the Buddhist tradition, depicting only the countries of the southern island continent of Jambudvīpa.