Padre Matteo Ricci

A wonderful exhibition to symbolize his message and to pay homage to a genius

Press Conference - Beijing 6 February 2010


As part of its strategies of active internationalization to penetrate the Chinese market, the regional government of the Marche conceived and is promoting the Father Matteo Ricci (Macerata 1552 - Beijing 1610) Project, by which is meant all the initiatives promoted by the Regione Marche, in cooperation with the Organizing Committee of the Celebrations of the Fourth Centenary of the death of Father Matteo Ricci, to be carried out in the three-year period 2009-2011.

This is the background of the conception of the Matteo Ricci: An Encounter of Civilizations in Ming China exhibition, which, for the first time in China, will reconstruct the events and follows the footsteps of Matteo Ricci, a Jesuit from the Marche and a hero of world cultural history: the first person who established a solid cultural bridge between the West and China, opening that great country to the world towards the end of the Ming dynasty.  

Promoted and organized thanks to the exceptional commitment of the Regione Marche, Ricci's native land, the exhibition will take place under the Aegis of the President of the Italian Republic, with the support of the Foreign Ministry and the Ministry of Cultural Activities and Assets. The exhibition is curated by Filippo Mignini, the president of the Istituto Matteo Ricci Institute for Relations with the East, who was in charge of three previous exhibitions on Ricci - Macerata in 2003, Rome (at the monument to Vittorio Emanuele II) in 2005, and Berlin in 2005 - and will take place in three cities: Beijing, Shanghai, and Nanjing.

On the fourth centenary of his death, the exhibition documents the first significant encounter between European civilization and Chinese civilization, reconstructing the complex physical, cultural, and spiritual journey made by the Jesuit and his companions in cooperation with a wide circle of Chinese intellectuals. The exhibition presents a selection of 200 works from leading Italian and Chinese museums, including masterpieces of the Italian Renaissance (Raphael, Titian, Lotto, Barocci) that will be on display for the first time in China, next to precious documents of the art e and culture of the Ming empire.

 "On the 400th anniversary of the death of Father Matteo Ricci," explains the President of the Region, Gian Mario Spacca, "our intention is to recall the strength of the ideas, the culture, and the intellectual riches of this Jesuit from Macerata, who succeeded in winning over the Chinese imperial court and received the honor never before granted to a foreigner of being buried there.   

In effect, his work is still highly regarded, commemorated, and studied in the country that welcomed him, China, whereas it is little known in Italy. During the Cold War, he inspired the 'ping pong diplomacy'. In 1971, the American Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, who had studied in depth Father Matteo Ricci's diplomatic skill and extensive knowledge of the protocol of the imperial court, was the promoter - during the 31st World Table Tennis Championship in Japan - of an exchange of visits between ping pong players of the United States and the People's Republic of China, which paved the way for the American President Richard Nixon's visit to China in 1972.       

"This ability to engage others in a dialogue, to start a discussion with such a distant civilization, to integrate and be integrated," Spacca continues, "constitutes an important lesson for those of us in the Marche, which we should keep well in mind even today in order to increase our ability to carry out innovative projects worldwide. In effect, along with the knowledge he had achieved through his studies, Matteo Ricci also took to China the spirit of his native land. He perceived the latter's peculiarities an as added value, to the extent that he theorized that there is no 'real unity without differences', a sacrosanct principle that applies to all manifestations of everyday life. So if, for Matteo Ricci, culture constituted the riches for achieving good relations and creating a dialogue, there is no better way than a great exhibition to symbolize his message and honor a genius, as he is viewed in China and throughout the Far East."           

At a time of China's greatest openness to the world, the exhibition thus aims to recount the great joint achievement of the European and Chinese intellectuals who, at the beginning of the modern era, laid the foundations of this opening, as a double token of knowledge and friendship.    

The two worlds that until then were reciprocally unacquainted with each other were put into contact by Ricci and recognized each other in his works as the two halves of a whole. The importance of this exchange and the greatness of the man who brought it about were expressed by the Chinese, even though they were very suspicious of foreigners, in the absolutely unusual title conferred on Father Matteo Ricci: Xitai , "master of the Far West".

The results of Ricci's work in China were enormously significant. He was the very first person to win the trust of the Chinese and make them curious about the world. In terms of its effectiveness and duration, this was an event of incalculable importance, and by itself justified the eternal gratitude of China to its Li Madou (the transliteration of the name "Ricci Matteo" in Chinese).

Then there were the scientific, technological, philosophical, and religious innovations which elevated Ricci to the Olympus of the great men of China. He is the only Westerner besides Marco Polo who is commemorated in the great monument to the Chinese heroes of the second millennium. However, whereas Marco Polo only presented the Cathay of the Tartars to Europe, Matteo Ricci carried out a deep and enduring communication in both of the directions, revealing China to Europe and transmitting fundamental documents of Western civilization to China.     

To demonstrate the advanced state of European technology, he showed Confucian men of letters and important figures an automatic clock and the world map. Having found similarities between the philosophical culture of the mandarins and Greek philosophy, Ricci introduced several essential works of Greek thought. He translated the Enchiridion of Epictetus, calling it "Twenty-five Sayings" and paraphrasing many passages with a Christian twist. In 1607 Ricci, together with the Catholic Chinese mathematician Xu Guangqi, translated the first six books of Euclid's Elements of Geometry into Chinese. In addition, Ricci devoted himself to the creation of a world atlas in Chinese, personally seeing to the translation of the European names into the local language. Many of the names coined by him - not only geographical, but also in other fields, such as clock technology - are still used in China. Finally, Ricci made first-hand knowledge and information about the entire Chinese civilization available to Europe for the first time.      

The exhibition

The first part of the exhibition reconstructs the cultural and artistic fabric of the West in Ricci's time, the years of the high Renaissance. On display for the first time in China are paintings by some of the most important Italian artists of the time (including Raphael, Titian, Lorenzo Lotto, Federico Zuccari, Federico Barocci, Giulio Romano, and Simone De Magistris), together with other works, documents, and scientific instruments, which testify to the completeness and importance of the grafts of European knowledge and experience in China: books and manuscripts, including Astronomicum caesareum by P. Apianus, Theatrum orbis terrarum by Ortelius, a copy of which Ricci gave to the emperor,  Humani corporis fabrica  Vesalius, and the Antwerp Polyglot Bible, together with tens of other precious books published in the sixteenth century, artistic bindings, bronze engravings, scale models of ancient and Renaissance Rome, musical instruments, Leonardesque machines, and mechanical devices for measuring time and space, as well as late-Renaissance furnishings and Raphael's famous cartoons for tapestries, which are currently housed in the Galleria Nazionale delle Marche in Urbino, to reconstruct the typical setting of Italian mansions at the end of the sixteenth century.  

The second part of the exhibition presents the world that Matteo Ricci found in China when he arrived there and - through original documents and Chinese objects of the time - the experience of Matteo Ricci in his encounter and dialogue with the Chinese, from Macau, where he first landed, to Beijing, where the great pioneer is buried. The Chinese works on display evoke fundamental aspects of the Chinese civilization of Ricci's time: the language, writing, books, the three great religions (Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism), the works produced by Ricci and his friends in China, maps, and scientific instruments. Special attention is dedicated to the community and life of the Chinese men of letters, by whom Li Madou was welcomed and recognized as a master. Precious gold and jade objects evoke the fascination of Wanli's court, to which the foreign man of letters had access whenever he wished. On display is also a painting depicting a landscape with a wood in the vicinity of Beijing, which the Chinese attribute to Ricci himself.       

Unique in its genre and aimed at creating an overall vision of the figure and the work of the great Jesuit, this exhibition is sponsored by the Regione Marche as part of the activity of the Organizing Committee of the Celebrations of the Fourth Centenary of the death of Father Matteo Ricci, with the support of Svim spa. MondoMostre is in charge of the general organization of the exhibition in the three cities where it will be shown: Beijing, Shanghai, and Nanjing.


A wonderful exhibition to symbolize his message and to pay homage to a genius

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