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Beijing fetes 16th-century missionary

Exhibition explores life of Italy's Matteo Ricci

28 January, 17:01
Beijing fetes 16th-century missionary (ANSA) - Ancona, January 28 - An exhibition opening in Beijing next month pays tribute to a 16th-century Italian mathematician and missionary who settled in China, officials from his native Marche region have announced. The exhibition will explore the extraordinary life of Matteo Ricci (1552-1610), a Jesuit priest and academic born in Macerata, who spent most of his adult years in China and eventually became a member of the court of Ming Emperor Wanli.

Speaking at a press conference presenting the exhibition, Marche Governor Gian Mario Spacca described it as ''an extremely important cultural event''. ''This exhibition will not only honour our illustrious 'son', it will also strengthen ties with China,'' he said. The event's curator, Filippo Mignini said the exhibition, marking 400 years since Ricci's death, would open in Beijing on February 6, before moving on to Shanghai and later Nanjing. The show will feature around 200 pieces, including a core collection of 60 artefacts.

The remaining items will be tailored to highlight Ricci's ties with the host city, with loans from leading Italian and Chinese institutes.

These additional works will include several Renaissance Italian masterpieces by stars such as Raphael and Titian, on display in China for the first time, as well as priceless documents and artworks from the Ming Dynasty. Ricci studied mathematics and astronomy for several years in Rome, where he entered the Jesuit order, before setting out for the Far East in 1578 at the age of 26. He spent four years in Goa on the west coast of India before travelling to China where he settled in the southernmost Guangdong Province and began studying Chinese.

It was during this period that the Jesuit priest produced his first global Great Map of Ten Thousand Countries, which revolutionized Chinese understanding of the rest of the world.

In 1589 he moved to Zhao Zhou and began sharing European mathematical ideas with Chinese scholars, winning renown for his extraordinary memory and knowledge of astronomy. The reputation of Li Madou - as he was known in China - spread, and in 1601 he was finally allowed into the Forbidden City of Beijing, where he worked until his death in 1610.

During his life, the Jesuit sought to bridge the gap between Chinese and Italian cultures more by discussion of ethical and philosophical questions than by focusing on religion.

Ricci's work is today familiar to Chinese schoolchildren of all ages but he has only recently become a familiar name in Italy.

Despite his reputation in China, the Catholic Church condemned him for heresy 100 years after his death and he was only rehabilitated by Pope Pius XII in 1939.

His memory has largely been neglected since then but two successful exhibitions, coupled with a TV film, have sparked a revival of popular interest in his extraordinary life. The fourth centenary of Ricci's death falls this year and several initiatives have been organized to mark the event. The largest of these is the travelling exhibition in China, but the Catholic Church is also planning to commemorate the anniversary.

The exhibition in Beijing, which runs until March 20, will be followed by stints in Shanghai from April 2 until May 23, and in Nanjing from June 4 until July 25.

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