ALENI, Giulio (1582-1649). Tianzhu jiansheng chuxiang jingjie. [A History of the Lord of Heaven Who Became Incarnate in the Flesh]. [Peking, n.d.]
275 x 157 mm. 5 pages preliminary text on 3 leaves, 47 (of 56 or 57?) wood-engravings, each with Chinese text above and below, printed xylographically on native made paper in characters in the Chinese manner on one side folding leaves. (Final blank page after preliminary text with repair.) Modern fabric binding, original wrappers bound in, early title slips in Chinese and Latin pasted to upper wrapper; cloth folding case. Provenance: Sotheby's London, 27 June 1996, lot 229.
Apparently a late impression (with some blocks recut) of a famous Christian work originally published in the first half of the seventeenth century. The present work comprises 49 woodcuts depicting the life of Christ from the Annunciation to his death and Resurrection and Ascension, ending with the Assumption of the Virgin and her coronation. A very rare series of engravings depicting the life of Christ, adapted by the Jesuit Missionary Giulio Aleni from a much larger set of engravings by the Flemish artist Wierix (and others) for Hieronymus Natalis's Evangelicae historiae imagines which was first published in Antwerp, 1593 and republished under the title Adnotationes et meditations in evangelia. The Biblical scenes are depicted with Chinese figurants and are printed on thin Chinese rice paper. There is some discrepancy regarding plate counts, but a complete copy has been cited as having 54 illustrations plus a double-page plan of Jerusalem (not present in this copy).
Born in Brescia, the Jesuit Aleni (1582-1649) entered China in 1613, travelling first to Pekin, and then to Shanghai where he taught the European exact sciences to a learned Mandarin, who later became a Christian. He “brought western iconography to China, where it was used as the Chinese themselves had used illustrations, especially in Buddho-Taoist teaching. Here we have an intricate block-printed book of illustrations used as an aid to proselytization. Numbers in the text portion at the bottom of pages refer to figures and arrangements in the scenes of Christ's life" (Library of Congress Vatican Exhibit).
EXTREMELY RARE: according to American Book Prices Current, apart from this copy when it appeared at auction in 1996, only one other copy or edition (with 57 copperplate engravings) appeared at auction in at least the past 40 years (the Hauck copy, sold Christie’s New York, 27 June 2006, lot 17) . Pfister I, p.132, no. 2.