Michał Boym, the Sum Xu, and the Reappearing Image

in Journal of Early Modern History
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Abstract

By examining images of the imaginary Chinese animal Sum Xu, this essay engages with questions about artistic origins and authorial originality, two art-historical concepts that so often exclude peripheral artists and their supposedly derivative artworks. Drawn by the Polish-Ruthenian Jesuit Michał Boym, the Sum Xu challenges the conventional accounts of images’ origins. As will be demonstrated, Boym’s image cannot be associated with a single place; its visual form derives its appearance from a multitude of sources, and the creature’s erratic afterlives further destabilize the concept of origin as an authorial act tied to a singular moment in space and time.

Michał Boym, the Sum Xu, and the Reappearing Image

in Journal of Early Modern History
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Figures
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    Sum Xu Chasing a Green-Haired Turtle, 1656, colored engraving from Michał Boym, Flora sinensis, Vienna, 1656. Warsaw, National Library, SD XVII.4.3196.
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    Michał Boym, Flora sinensis, Vienna, 1656. Warsaw, National Library, detail.
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    Ferret and European Polecat, woodcut from Conrad Gesner, Icones Animalium: Quadrupedum viviparorum et oviparorum, Zurich, 1553. Montreal, Rare Books and Special Collections, McGill University Library, folio QL673 G475 1553.
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    Squirrel, woodcut from Ulisse Aldrovandi, De quadrupedib[us] digitatis viviparis libri tres et de quadrupedib[us] digitatis oviparis libri duo, Bologna, 1645. Biblioteca Histórica de la Universidad Complutense de Madrid, BH MED 2683.
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    Tao Cheng’s Squirrel, woodcut from Gu Bing, Gu shi hua pu, Hangzhou, 1603. Beijing, National Library of China, 16284.
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    Sum Xu, drawing in Michał Boym, Atlas chinensis, 1640s or 1650s.
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    Green-haired turtle, engraving from Melchisédech Thévenot, Relations de divers voyages curieux. Paris, 1696. Chicago, Newberry Library, Vault folio Ayer 110 .T3 1696.
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    Feki, engraving from Athanasius Kircher, China illustrata, Amsterdam, 1667. Montreal, Rare Books and Special Collections, McGill University Library, folio DS708 K5 1667.
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    Chinese animals, engraving from Johan Nieuhof, L’ambassade de la compagnie orientale de Provinces Unies vers L’empereur de la Chine, Leiden, 1665. Montreal, Rare Books and Special Collections, McGill University Library, folio DS708 N6814 1665 ptie 1/2.
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    Feki, engraving from Special Remarks Taken at Large out of Athanasius Kircher, His Antiquities of China, trans. John Ogilby, London, 1669. Montreal, Rare Books and Special Collections, McGill University Library, folio DS708 N6813 1669.
  • View in gallery
    Chinese animals, engraving from Johan Nieuhof, L’ambassade de la compagnie orientale de Provinces Unies vers L’empereur de la Chine, Leiden, 1665. Montreal, Rare Books and Special Collections, McGill University Library, detail.
  • View in gallery
    Feki, engraving from Athanasius Kircher, China illustrata, Amsterdam, 1667. Montreal, Rare Books and Special Collections, McGill University Library, detail.
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