Speaker: Professor Haida Liang
Title: An interdisciplinary study of the mysteries of the Selden map of China – a holistic approach involving imaging, spectroscopy and art history
RSVP: Please email Linda Lilly by COB Monday 12 December, 2016
Since the ‘rediscovery’ of the Selden map of China, an early 17th century map of Asia, in the Bodleian Library in Oxford, the importance of the map in our understanding of globalisation in the early 17th century has been recognised. Painted in the style of Chinese landscape painting, it depicts the maritime trade routes with precise compass bearings on a map that includes China in the north down to Java in the south, the Philippines and Japan in the east extending to Calicut in the west. In the 18th century, the map was deemed cartographically incorrect by the Oxford astronomer Edmond Halley and banished to storage. One of the unresolved questions is the origin of the map. This talk addresses the question through a holistic approach using material evidence derived from a suite of complementary analytical techniques along with art history and geophysics knowledge. The map was examined in situ and non-invasively by a spectral imaging instrument (PRISMS), which was followed by a range of complementary techniques applied to a number of detached fragments. The binding medium and pigment used was found to be more akin to the South and West Asian traditions than Chinese or European, even though visually the map looks Chinese or East Asian. Detailed analysis of the various spectral bands of the spectral image cube along with visual inspection of the large scale colour image showed that the map was not fully planned at the beginning but rather painted in stages, at times by trial and error and that it was unfinished. A new hypothesis for the origin of the Selden map in Aceh Sumatra is proposed based on the new evidences. This study demonstrates the powers of interdisciplinary research in the study of an information rich complex object of historical importance, through combining knowledge in imaging and spectroscopy with history, art history, geophysics and cartography. It is interesting that the map originally fell into neglect because of an astronomer, but it is now studied by astronomy inspired imaging and spectroscopy instruments.
About the speaker:
Professor Haida Linag received her PhD in Astronomy and Astrophysics from ANU. After a few postdocs in astronomy she became a research fellow in the Scientific Department at the National Gallery, London, changing her research focus from observing the sky to imaging paintings. Following this she moved to Nottingham Trent University, UK, where she started her own group and is now the head of the Imaging & Sensing for Archaeology, Art History & Conservation (ISAAC) research group. Her work explores using non-invasive imaging techniques used in astronomy and medical imaging in the context of art conservation. In this capacity her lab developed several imaging systems for optical coherence tomography, multi-/hyper-spectral imaging and lightfastness testing of heritage objects.
Her many external collaborations include for example the National Gallery, London; Dunhuang Academy, China (Mogao Caves); Foundation Beyeler, Switzerland; Smithsonian Institute, USA; as well as industry, universities and research institutes worldwide.