Woodblock and Movable Type Printed Books and Art Works
Traditional Chinese woodblock-printed books are characterful and often illustrative. Each book has its own characteristics in terms of block layout, illustration pattern, calligraphic style, block-cutting style, and quality of ink and paper used to produce the work. In particular, illustration is a long-standing feature of Chinese woodblock printed books. The first complete and dated Chinese book is the Diamond Sutra, dated in 868 (Tang dynasty), and printed on 5 single woodblocks and pasted to form a scroll over 5 meters in length. Ahead of the sutra text is a woodcut illustration (Frontispiece) depicting the Buddha preaching to disciples, which is a priceless illustrated record of early Buddhist teachings. The Diamond Sutra sets a model for later Buddhist publications, especially the production of multi-volume Chinese Buddhist canons throughout East Asia.
Along with early religious printings is another major set of early woodblock printed books of classics, historical records, and Confucius teachings with comments and annotations, to meet the needs of candidates for imperial exams, and for private study or collecting. These books meant to be serious studies, usually heavily textual, with little or no illustrations. For books on Confucius teachings, the original words or teachings are printed in big characters, while comments and annotations are inter-printed in small characters.
As printing became increasingly commercialized in the Ming dynasty in China to meet the demand for various content and reading tastes, illustrations became a common feature in vernacular literature such as stories, dramas, novels, biographies, and garden sceneries. These illustrations were skillfully cut to align with text either precisely or in an exaggerated manner for artistic effect. Similar trends exsited in Japan's printing market, resulting in the ukiyo-e school of art works, i.e., woodblock prints and paintings of daily life. Ukiyo-e literally means “floating world.”
On display here are a few works representing all these characteristics.