Trade Missions

Nieuhof Embassy

Between 1655 and 1685, as part of their strategy to break the Portuguese monopoly on trade to China, the Dutch East India Company sent four embassies to the imperial court at Peking. In permitting these delegations, the emperor was breaking with the age-old policy of keeping foreigners out of China.

Nieuhof, an accomplished draughtsman, accompanied the first of these embassies and in 1665 published an influential account of the mission. Its 150 illustrations encouraged the eighteenth century fashion for all things Chinese, and many artists and architects based their designs on the images in Nieuhof's book.

The RBLA has the first Latin, French and English editions of the work. For the first English edition publisher John Ogilby added a number of additional chapters taken  from important sources including letters from the Jesuit father John Adams as well as a partial translation of Athanasius Kircher’s China Illustrata (1667). Ogilby sold the first edition by lottery, which was so successful that he was able to set up his own printing shop on the profits. Among the works he issued were a series of great atlases of which the RBLA has the Atlas Chinensis (London, 1671).

The image reproduced here depicts the Chinese emperor sitting on a throne, his left arm resting on a globe, a yoked criminal lying at his feet.