All images via Cambridge University Library
Among the selections recently added to Cambridge’s Digital Library is Shi zhu zhai shu hua pu, or Manual of Calligraphy and Painting, a seventeenth-century Chinese book by the Ten Bamboo Studio, based in Nanjing. First published in 1633, it’s believed to be the earliest surviving example of multicolor printing—specifically, of a woodcut technique known as douban in which inks of varying colors are applied in succession, giving the finished print the look of a hand-painted watercolor.
The book’s butterfly binding—an early Chinese process in which the pages are printed on only one side, and then pasted together and folded—made it so fragile that the university forbade anyone to open it until it had been digitized. It comprises eight sections: birds, plums, orchids, bamboos, fruit, stones, ink drawings, and (that perennial favorite) miscellany. You can see some of the woodcuts below, and read more about the book at Hyperallergic.
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