Friday, August 21, 2015

Cambridge University Library digitises world’s first multicolour printed book

This is a spread from the world’s first multicolour printed book, a 17th Century artist manual that remained in print for over 200 years. The Manual of Calligraphy and Painting (Shi zhu zhai shu hua pu) was created in 1633 by the Ten Bamboo Studio, using a technique called polychrome xylography, invented by the studio's owner, the pioneering artist and printmaker Hu Zhengyan. The earliest and the finest example of multicolour printing anywhere in the world, comprising 138 paintings and sketches with associated texts by 50 different artists and calligraphers, the physical copy of the book is so fragile that it was never opened before the Cambridge University Library decided to digitise it. Making each image involved several printing blocks with different coloured ink, though the end result looks like hand-painted watercolor images. That effect was very cutting-edge at the time, as Hu was the first to use printing techniques that allowed for more delicate gradations of colour.

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