Support The World's Smartest Network

Help the New York Academy of Sciences bring late-breaking scientific information about the COVID-19 pandemic to global audiences. Please make a tax-deductible gift today.

This site uses cookies.
Learn more.


This website uses cookies. Some of the cookies we use are essential for parts of the website to operate while others offer you a better browsing experience. You give us your permission to use cookies, by continuing to use our website after you have received the cookie notification. To find out more about cookies on this website and how to change your cookie settings, see our Privacy policy and Terms of Use.

We encourage you to learn more about cookies on our site in our Privacy policy and Terms of Use.

Science and Art in China

Science and Art in China

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The New York Academy of Sciences

Presented By

The New York Academy of Sciences


In 1607 the Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci (1552–1610), in collaboration with his colleague Xu Guangqi (1562–1633), translated the first six books of Euclid's Elements of Geometry into Chinese. Among those to take a serious interest in this work was the prominent mathematician Mei Wending (1632–1721), but his Jihe tongjie (General Explanation of (Euclid's) Geometry) eliminated most of the demonstrations and redrew many of the original diagrams. Several decades later, when the Jesuit artist Giuseppe Castiglione (1688–1766) collaborated with Nian Yixiao (1671–1738), a high-ranking official of the Yongzheng reign, to produce Chinese versions of Andrea Pozzo's Perspectiva Pictorum et Architectorum (1693–1698), this reflected the fascination of the Yongzheng emperor (r. 1723–1735) in the trompe l'oeil effects of illusionistic perspective paintings. His successor, the Qianlong emperor (r. 1736–1795), also commissioned many such works, but imperial patronage did not result in popular success for the genre, and today only a handful of these Chinese perspective paintings, rarely seen, survive.

Why were the basic elements of western mathematics, so essential for the Scientific Revolution, as well as the discovery of mathematical perspective that revolutionized western artistic vision (as exemplified by Pozzo's magnificent illusionistic frescoes in the Jesuit Church of St. Ignazio in Rome, for example, and imitated by Giovanni Gherardini for the Beitang or North Church of the French Jesuits in Beijing), not similarly appreciated by Chinese intellectuals and artists? Are the examples of the limited reception of Euclid's Elements by Chinse mathematicians and the general lack of interest in the principles of mathematical perspective in Chinese art in any way related? And does the answer to this question in turn shed any light on the Needham Question—the question Joseph Needham sought to answer through his monumental investigation of Science and Civilization in China—namely why was there never a Chinese scientific revolution?


Joseph Dauben

Distinguished Professor of History at the City University of New York


This event is free, but registration is required.