Skip to Content ☰ Open Filter >>


Showing 6 of 9

Asia Unknown,
Three bedewed orchids, 1633
Ink on paper
9 13/16 x 11 13/16 in. (25 x 30 cm)

Object Type: Print
Technique: Wood-block Printing
Period: Ming Dynasty (China, 1368-1644)
Accession Number: 2016.4.4

This is the earliest Chinese book printed by the technique of polychrome xylography known as douban invented and perfected by Hu Zhengyan (1584-1674). The method involves the use of multiple printing blocks which successively apply different coloured inks to the paper to reproduce the effect of watercolour painting.

Great skill is required to achieve a convincing result, but the beautiful gradations of colour in this work have led to its reputation as "perhaps the most beautiful set of prints ever made".

The work is divided into eight categories: birds, plums, orchids, bamboos, fruit, stones, ink drawings (round fans) and miscellany. Each category is divided into two fascicles. The leaves are printed on one side only, folded in half and glued together along the outer fold (the so-called 'butterfly' binding). With the exception of one category, every image is followed by an accompanying text, in most cases a poem.

University of Cambridge, Digital Library
View entire volumes of the work at

Nanjing, China
Around AD 1619-33

The most important of the early Chinese colour-printed woodblock books

This is the first Chinese woodblock book printed in colour. It was originally printed in sixteen parts between 1619 and 1633. Its creator, Hu Zhengyan (about 1582 - about 1672) was a native of Anhui Province who lived in Nanjing. The Ten Bamboo Studio was the name of the house in Nanjing where Hu and his friends would gather. A noted calligrapher, painter and seal-carver, Hu also produced a similar volume of decorated letter paper, Shizhuzhai jianpu.

The technique of multi-colour block printing or taoban was used. The format for the book was one of a double-page illustration followed by similar pages of calligraphy. These pages would have been bound together using a 'butterfly-binding' so that the complete image could be seen at a single opening without needing the usual central division of a double page.

The seventeenth century was a period of conspicious consumption in China, and books like this were luxury objects created for pleasure rather than learning. Great attention was paid to the creation of each illustration. Care was taken so that the subtle tonalities of colour and fine brushwork of Chinese painting could be reproduced in the medium of print.

The British Museum,_shizhuzhai_shuhua.aspx

There is a printed inscription at the upper left.

ink on paper

Keywords Click a term to view the records with the same keyword
This object has the following keywords:

Portfolio List Click a portfolio name to view all the objects in that portfolio
This object is a member of the following portfolios:

Your current search criteria is: Portfolio is "Plants" and [Objects]Period is "Ming Dynasty (China, 1368-1644)" and [Objects]Object Type is "Print".