Rare missionary map up for auction shows how Victorian zeal carved its path across the globe

The First Art Newspaper on the Net    Established in 1996 Monday, February 26, 2024


Rare missionary map up for auction shows how Victorian zeal carved its path across the globe
The 18½ x 29in (47 x 74cm) map presents two hemispheres illustrating the spread of religion across the globe.



LONDON.- The Pictorial Missionary Map of the World is a rarity that appears at auction only once in every ten or 20 years. As such, the 1861 vision of global religion and Christian missions is much sought after by collectors.

John Nicholson’s Fine Paintings sale on February 20 will include a fine example of the map, drawn by John Gilbert (1810-99) and engraved and printed by Edmund Evans, a leading engraver and colour printer of the day who worked with the likes of Kate Greenaway and Walter Crane to produce illustrations for children’s stories.

The 18½ x 29in (47 x 74cm) map presents two hemispheres illustrating the spread of religion across the globe. Surrounding these are multiple vignettes comparing and contrasting the enlightened views and behaviour of the Christian world with the cruelty and oppression of other religions – some examples more credible than others.

Slavery, war and barbarism are the motifs of peoples across the world under their old religions, while peace, kindness and tranquillity are illustrated in stark contrast once they have been converted to Christianity.

Subjects include England before the introduction of Christianity versus England under the Gospel; North America before the Gospel, showing warlike native Americans charging on horseback, compared with North American Indians under the influence of the Gospel, as they help each other on a journey across pack ice.

More dramatic still is the unfamiliar cruelty of Buddhism, with its infant-burying in China. Meanwhile freed slaves in Sierra Leone present a happier future.

Crowning the map is the cruelty of Hindoo idolatry, showing a scene of suttee, or widow burning, a practice banned under British imperial rule.

Perhaps most obscure is a vignette illustrating The Swinging Festival, better known as charak puja or the hook swinging festival, an eye-watering Bengali devotional ritual to the female deity Mari-amma, during which a priest would beat the devotee on the back until they were numb, before hooking them up by the flesh of the back to a raised gibbet and swinging them around in circles. The devotee was honour bound to show no pain or fear, nor cry out.

Despite the global nature of the map, Judaism is not included, with individual colour-coded religions listed being restricted to Protestant, Roman Catholic, Greek Church, Mahometan, Decayed Christian Church and Heathen.

Picked out in black, Heathen covers much of North America, the Amazon basin, the foot of South America, almost the entire sub-Saharan Africa, and the whole world from India eastwards, including Australia and New Zealand, saving minor pockets of Protestantism and Roman Catholicism.

A fascinating ethnological vision of the world, providing insights into the social, moral and political accepted norms of the time in Western society, with folds and minor tears, it comes estimated at £200-300.










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