22 September, 2008

History of Chinese Printmaking

On the weekend I visited the National Palace Museum in Taipei.

221 Chih-shan Rd., Sec. 2; Shih-lin, Taipei, 11143, TAIWAN Tel:+886-2-2881-2021

There are three pages of "current exhbitions" starting here

A large part of the English language information onsite is also available on these pages along with illustrations of displays. Of particular interest was the rare books exhibit which contained samples of bronze cast moveable type. What was noticable was the relationship between the moveable type (pictured) and the ancient bronze cast seals exhibited elsewhere in the museum.

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Gems in the Rare Books Collection
Permanent Exhibit
Gallery: 103
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Exhibit Info

The Ancient Art of Writing: Selections from the History of Chinese Calligraphy
Dates: 2008/07/01 ~ 2008/09/25
Gallery: 204, 206
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The Evolution of Printing in China

The carving of characters into flat blocks of wood, which are then rubbed with ink and then pressed on paper (a technique known as woodblock printing), began during the T'ang dynasty (618-907) (figure 2).

Starting in the Sung dynasty (960-1279), it became the major means of producing traditional printed matter in China. Early woodblock prints could only be printed in one color (usually black ink) and were known accordingly as "tan-yin (single print)". If several woodblocks for the same print are made, with a different color intended for each part, then repeated printing on the same piece of paper can yield a print with two, three, four, or even five colors. This is known as a "t'ao-yin (set print)". Books printed using the "t'ao-yin" method are called "t'ao-yin pen (set-print books)" and represent the distinctive technique of color printing in ancient China.

Movable type printing, on the other hand, uses copper casts (figure 3) or wood engravings of individual characters that are assembled before printing together on a page (figure 4). The Ch'ien-lung Emperor (r. 1736-1795) referred to books produced at his court using movable wood type as "chü-chen pan (gem ['assembled treasure'] editions)". Lithography is a Western technique that was brought to China in the late Ch'ing dynasty (1644-1911) and rapidly spread as a result of its high speed of production and low cost.

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As the sign states, this jade book dates from 1008AD.
Nb: To deter copying, I have loaded a slightly out of focus image.

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