Altfield maintains a good selection of European printed maps of China and the Asian region, dating from the 16th to 19th century. Engraved in the most important trading capitals of Europe, the information on which these early maps are based was taken from charts and sketches made by early explorers, merchant mariners and diplomats.

These early works provide us with a fascinating account of how Europe viewed the world. They serve to document the extraordinary period of expansion and exploration by the European maritime nations to the unknown reaches of the world. The thirst for spices and exotic new products pushed traders to risk their lives and fortunes in opening up new markets. Watching the development of maps from the 16th to 19th century shows very clearly how the state of knowledge changed over the years.

The earliest Western map of China was completed by the Jesuit Barbuda in 1555, when the Korean peninsula was still assumed to be an island. Gradually more monks were allowed entry and a further study was completed in the 17th century under Martini (another Jesuit), which provided information allowing for a more accurate map of China to be produced. (The Portuguese were developing the spice trade in the Malaccas and Sundas in the 17th and 18th centuries, and maps of the complex shipping routes that bridged their Asian colonies provided important early material for the development of more accurate maps of the Asian region. (The maps are fascinating views into a different time and world view. They are powerfully evocative of the history of western involvement with Asia, and they form a visual jigsaw of our understanding of the shape of the world. The fact that the maps are still being re-drawn and have perhaps had their most dramatic changes over the last 150 years gives greater importance to these beautiful early charts and views. (Our Gallery shows the work of a number of the important map-makers of the Pacific region. The richness of graphic detail and compositional skill applied by the early cartographers is easy to appreciate.