Hu Zhengyan, Shizhuzhai shuhua pu ('A Manual of Calligraphy and Painting from the Ten Bamboo Studio'), an illustrated woodblock book

Nanjing, China
Around AD 1619-33

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

This is the first Chinese woodblock books 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 example shown here depicts a bamboo with prunus, a pictorial theme popular in literati circles.

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.

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More information


J. Rawson (ed.), The British Museum book of Chi (London, The British Museum Press, 1992)


Height: 250.000 mm (approx.)
Width: 260.000 mm (approx.)

Museum number

Asia OA 1970.2-2.05, 06;Asia OA 1970.2-2.07, 08



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