This book contains fifty-six woodblock-printed illustrations of the life of Jesus, each of them with an explanation in Chinese. This is one of the thirty-seven surviving copies and it includes a foldout map of Jerusalem.

Who produced this book?

Italian missionary Giulio Aleni (1582–1649) published this work in the Jesuit mission of Fujian Province in 1637. Most of the images for this publication were taken from Evangelicae Historiae Imagines, a posthumous work by Jerónimo Nadal published in Antwerp in 1593, containing 153 copperplate engravings of the life of Jesus by European artists. Aleni selected and reproduced Nadal’s engravings using the Chinese technique of woodblock printing, presenting a highly sophisticated work with educational purposes. In this way, he brought to the Chinese eye European religious iconography, with its perspective and chiaroscuro. In some cases, Aleni edited and reinterpreted the original images, adding Chinese-style elements and depicting Chinese people in some of the scenes.

Jesuits in China

Jesuits are the members of a Catholic congregation founded in 1540 by Ignatius of Loyola. In the 16th and 17th centuries, they established several missions in China, entering from the Portuguese settlement of Macau. Jesuits like Matteo Ricci – the first European to enter the Forbidden City – Ferdinand Verbiest, Johann Adam Schall von Bell and Giulio Aleni could speak and read Chinese and received education on Chinese philosophy and classics, which they then transmitted to European scholars. Reciprocally, they contributed to the translation and dissemination of European works on mathematics, geography, astronomy and technology, giving a great contribution to the cultural exchange between China and Europe.