Woodblock printing
Overview
Woodblock printing is a technique for printing
Printing
Printing is a process for reproducing text and image, typically with ink on paper using a printing press. It is often carried out as a large-scale industrial process, and is an essential part of publishing and transaction printing....

 text, image
Image
An image is an artifact, for example a two-dimensional picture, that has a similar appearance to some subject—usually a physical object or a person.-Characteristics:...

s or patterns used widely throughout East Asia
East Asia
East Asia or Eastern Asia is a subregion of Asia that can be defined in either geographical or cultural terms...

 and originating in China
China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

 in antiquity as a method of printing on textiles
Textile printing
Textile printing is the process of applying colour to fabric in definite patterns or designs. In properly printed fabrics the colour is bonded with the fiber, so as to resist washing and friction...

 and later paper
Paper
Paper is a thin material mainly used for writing upon, printing upon, drawing or for packaging. It is produced by pressing together moist fibers, typically cellulose pulp derived from wood, rags or grasses, and drying them into flexible sheets....

.

As a method of printing on cloth
Woodblock printing on textiles
Woodblock printing on textiles is the process of printing patterns on textiles, usually of linen, cotton or silk, by means of incised wooden blocks. It is the earliest, simplest and slowest of all methods of textile printing. Block printing by hand is a slow process...

, the earliest surviving examples from China
China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

 date to before 220, and from Egypt
Egypt
Egypt , officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, Arabic: , is a country mainly in North Africa, with the Sinai Peninsula forming a land bridge in Southwest Asia. Egypt is thus a transcontinental country, and a major power in Africa, the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and the Muslim world...

 to the 4th century.

Ukiyo-e
Ukiyo-e
' is a genre of Japanese woodblock prints and paintings produced between the 17th and the 20th centuries, featuring motifs of landscapes, tales from history, the theatre, and pleasure quarters...

is the best known type of Japan
Japan
Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

ese woodblock art print. Most European uses of the technique on paper are covered by the art term woodcut
Woodcut
Woodcut—occasionally known as xylography—is a relief printing artistic technique in printmaking in which an image is carved into the surface of a block of wood, with the printing parts remaining level with the surface while the non-printing parts are removed, typically with gouges...

, except for the block-books produced mainly in the 15th century.
The wood block is carefully prepared as a relief
Relief print
A relief print is an image created by a printmaking process where protruding surface faces of the matrix are inked; recessed areas are ink free. Printing the image is therefore a relatively simple matter of inking the face of the matrix and bringing it in firm contact with the paper...

 matrix, which means the areas to show 'white' are cut away with a knife, chisel, or sandpaper leaving the characters or image to show in 'black' at the original surface level.
Encyclopedia
Woodblock printing is a technique for printing
Printing
Printing is a process for reproducing text and image, typically with ink on paper using a printing press. It is often carried out as a large-scale industrial process, and is an essential part of publishing and transaction printing....

 text, image
Image
An image is an artifact, for example a two-dimensional picture, that has a similar appearance to some subject—usually a physical object or a person.-Characteristics:...

s or patterns used widely throughout East Asia
East Asia
East Asia or Eastern Asia is a subregion of Asia that can be defined in either geographical or cultural terms...

 and originating in China
China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

 in antiquity as a method of printing on textiles
Textile printing
Textile printing is the process of applying colour to fabric in definite patterns or designs. In properly printed fabrics the colour is bonded with the fiber, so as to resist washing and friction...

 and later paper
Paper
Paper is a thin material mainly used for writing upon, printing upon, drawing or for packaging. It is produced by pressing together moist fibers, typically cellulose pulp derived from wood, rags or grasses, and drying them into flexible sheets....

.

As a method of printing on cloth
Woodblock printing on textiles
Woodblock printing on textiles is the process of printing patterns on textiles, usually of linen, cotton or silk, by means of incised wooden blocks. It is the earliest, simplest and slowest of all methods of textile printing. Block printing by hand is a slow process...

, the earliest surviving examples from China
China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

 date to before 220, and from Egypt
Egypt
Egypt , officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, Arabic: , is a country mainly in North Africa, with the Sinai Peninsula forming a land bridge in Southwest Asia. Egypt is thus a transcontinental country, and a major power in Africa, the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and the Muslim world...

 to the 4th century.

Ukiyo-e
Ukiyo-e
' is a genre of Japanese woodblock prints and paintings produced between the 17th and the 20th centuries, featuring motifs of landscapes, tales from history, the theatre, and pleasure quarters...

is the best known type of Japan
Japan
Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

ese woodblock art print. Most European uses of the technique on paper are covered by the art term woodcut
Woodcut
Woodcut—occasionally known as xylography—is a relief printing artistic technique in printmaking in which an image is carved into the surface of a block of wood, with the printing parts remaining level with the surface while the non-printing parts are removed, typically with gouges...

, except for the block-books produced mainly in the 15th century.

Technique

The wood block is carefully prepared as a relief
Relief print
A relief print is an image created by a printmaking process where protruding surface faces of the matrix are inked; recessed areas are ink free. Printing the image is therefore a relatively simple matter of inking the face of the matrix and bringing it in firm contact with the paper...

 matrix, which means the areas to show 'white' are cut away with a knife, chisel, or sandpaper leaving the characters or image to show in 'black' at the original surface level. The block was cut along the grain of the wood. It is only necessary to ink the block and bring it into firm and even contact with the paper or cloth to achieve an acceptable print. The content would of course print "in reverse" or mirror-image, a further complication when text was involved. The art of carving the woodcut is technically known as xylography, though the term is rarely used in English.

For colour printing, multiple blocks are used, each for one colour, although overprinting two colours may produce further colours on the print. Multiple colours can be printed by keying the paper to a frame around the woodblocks.

There are three methods of printing to consider:
Stamping: Used for many fabrics, and most early European woodcuts (1400–40). These items were printed by putting paper or fabric on a table or a flat surface with the block on top, and pressing, or hammering, the back of the block.
Rubbing: Apparently the most common for Far Eastern printing. Used for European woodcuts and block-books later in the 15th century, and very widely for cloth. The block is placed face side up on a table, with the paper or fabric on top. The back of the block is rubbed with a "hard pad, a flat piece of wood, a burnisher, or a leather frotton".
Printing in a press: "Presses" only seem to have been used in Asia in relatively recent times. Simple weighted presses may have been used in Europe, but firm evidence is lacking. Later, printing-presses were used (from about 1480). A deceased Abbess of Mechelen
Mechelen
Mechelen Footnote: Mechelen became known in English as 'Mechlin' from which the adjective 'Mechlinian' is derived...

 in Flanders
Flanders
Flanders is the community of the Flemings but also one of the institutions in Belgium, and a geographical region located in parts of present-day Belgium, France and the Netherlands. "Flanders" can also refer to the northern part of Belgium that contains Brussels, Bruges, Ghent and Antwerp...

 in 1465 had "unum instrumentum ad imprintendum scripturas et ymagines ... cum 14 aliis lapideis printis" ("an instrument for printing texts and pictures ... with 14 stones for printing") which is probably too early to be a Gutenberg-type printing press in that location.

In addition, jia xie is a method for dyeing textiles (usually silk) using wood blocks invented in the 5th-6th centuries in China. An upper and a lower block is made, with carved out compartments opening to the back, fitted with plugs. The cloth, usually folded a number of times, is inserted and clamped between the two blocks. By unplugging the different compartments and filling them with dyes of different colours, a multi-coloured pattern can be printed over quite a large area of folded cloth. The method is not strictly printing however, as the pattern is not caused by pressure against the block.

Type of Wood used by Chinese


Dr. Henry, in his "Notes on the Economic Botany of China," refers to your wish to obtain specimens of the woods used in China for printing blocks.


The name which the neighbouring city of Wuchang enjoys for the excellence of its printing work has led me to inquire into the woods used there, and I am sending you specimens of them by parcel post.


The wood which is considered the best is the Veng li mu, which has been identified as the Pyrus betulcefolia, Bunge., and which grows in this Province. Slabs of this wood 1 ft. x 6 ins. x 1^ in. cost 150 cash, or about 5½.d.


A cheaper wood generally used for printing proclamations is the tu chung mu. Eucommia ulmoides, Oliv., has been determined to be the tu chung mu. The tu chung here used is a native of this Province.


A wood used in Kiangsu is the yin hsing mu, which is one of the names of the Salisburia adiantifolia.


Boxwood, huang yang mu, is obtained from Szechuen, but only in small pieces, which are mainly used for cutting the stamps used for private seals on letters and documents
.

In the third volume of the Japanese work, the "So Mokn Sei Fu," a drawing is given of the huang yang, together with a quotation from the Chinese Materia Medica, which speaks of the tree as growing an inch a year, except in these years which have an intercalary moon, when it grows backwards. From this it would appear to be a slow growing tree.


W. R. Carles, Esq., to Royal Gardens, Kew, dated Her Majesty's Consulate, Hankow, July 25th, 1896.

Development

The use of round "cylinder seal
Cylinder seal
A cylinder seal is a cylinder engraved with a 'picture story', used in ancient times to roll an impression onto a two-dimensional surface, generally wet clay. Cylinder seals were invented around 3500 BC in the Near East, at the contemporary site of Susa in south-western Iran and at the early site...

s" for rolling an impress onto clay tablet
Clay tablet
In the Ancient Near East, clay tablets were used as a writing medium, especially for writing in cuneiform, throughout the Bronze Age and well into the Iron Age....

s goes back to early Mesopotamia
Mesopotamia
Mesopotamia is a toponym for the area of the Tigris–Euphrates river system, largely corresponding to modern-day Iraq, northeastern Syria, southeastern Turkey and southwestern Iran.Widely considered to be the cradle of civilization, Bronze Age Mesopotamia included Sumer and the...

n civilization before 3000 BC, where they are the commonest works of art to survive, and feature complex and beautiful images. A few much larger brick (e.g. 13 x 13 cm) stamp
Impression seal
The impression seal is a common seal that leaves an impression, typically in clay and less often in wax. In antiquity they were common, largely because they served to authenticate legal documents, such as tax receipts, contracts, wills and decrees...

s for marking clay bricks survive from Akkad
Akkad
The Akkadian Empire was an empire centered in the city of Akkad and its surrounding region in Mesopotamia....

 from around 2270 BC. In both China and Egypt, the use of small stamp
Scaraboid seal
The Scaraboid seal is a category of the impression seals of Egypt. It is also a category of Jewellery and amulets, though as a seal it is of minor size ....

s for seals preceded the use of larger blocks. In Egypt, Europe, and India, the printing of cloth certainly preceded the printing of paper or papyrus; this was probably also the case in China. The process is essentially the same—in Europe special presentation impressions of prints
Old master print
An old master print is a work of art produced by a printing process within the Western tradition . A date of about 1830 is usually taken as marking the end of the period whose prints are covered by this term. The main techniques concerned are woodcut, engraving and etching, although there are...

 were often printed on silk
Silk
Silk is a natural protein fiber, some forms of which can be woven into textiles. The best-known type of silk is obtained from the cocoons of the larvae of the mulberry silkworm Bombyx mori reared in captivity...

 until at least the 17th century.

The earliest woodblock printed fragments to survive are from China and are of silk printed with flowers in three colours from the Han Dynasty
Han Dynasty
The Han Dynasty was the second imperial dynasty of China, preceded by the Qin Dynasty and succeeded by the Three Kingdoms . It was founded by the rebel leader Liu Bang, known posthumously as Emperor Gaozu of Han. It was briefly interrupted by the Xin Dynasty of the former regent Wang Mang...

 (before AD 220 ). The earliest Egyptian printed cloth dates from the 4th century. The dry conditions in Egypt are exceptionally good for preserving fabric compared to, for example, India.

It is clear that woodblock printing developed in Asia several centuries before Europe. The Chinese were the first to use the process to print solid text, and equally that, much later, in Europe the printing of images on cloth developed into the printing of images on paper (woodcut
Woodcut
Woodcut—occasionally known as xylography—is a relief printing artistic technique in printmaking in which an image is carved into the surface of a block of wood, with the printing parts remaining level with the surface while the non-printing parts are removed, typically with gouges...

s). It is also now established that the use in Europe of the same process to print substantial amounts of text together with images in block-books only came after the development of movable type
Movable type
Movable type is the system of printing and typography that uses movable components to reproduce the elements of a document ....

 in the 1450s.

It is not clear if the Egypt
Egypt
Egypt , officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, Arabic: , is a country mainly in North Africa, with the Sinai Peninsula forming a land bridge in Southwest Asia. Egypt is thus a transcontinental country, and a major power in Africa, the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and the Muslim world...

ian printing of cloth was learned from China, or elsewhere, or developed separately. Block printing, called tarsh in Arabic
Arabic language
Arabic is a name applied to the descendants of the Classical Arabic language of the 6th century AD, used most prominently in the Quran, the Islamic Holy Book...

 was developed in Arabic Egypt during the 9th-10th centuries, mostly for prayers and amulet
Amulet
An amulet, similar to a talisman , is any object intended to bring good luck or protection to its owner.Potential amulets include gems, especially engraved gems, statues, coins, drawings, pendants, rings, plants and animals; even words said in certain occasions—for example: vade retro satana—, to...

s. There were different types of print blocks, including ones made from metal
Metal
A metal , is an element, compound, or alloy that is a good conductor of both electricity and heat. Metals are usually malleable and shiny, that is they reflect most of incident light...

, wood and other materials. This technique, however, appears to have had little influence outside of the Muslim world
Muslim world
The term Muslim world has several meanings. In a religious sense, it refers to those who adhere to the teachings of Islam, referred to as Muslims. In a cultural sense, it refers to Islamic civilization, inclusive of non-Muslims living in that civilization...

. Though Europe adopted woodblock printing from the Muslim world, initially for fabric, the technique of metal block printing was also unknown in Europe. Block printing later went out of use in Islamic Central Asia
Central Asia
Central Asia is a core region of the Asian continent from the Caspian Sea in the west, China in the east, Afghanistan in the south, and Russia in the north...

 after movable type printing was introduced from China.

In China, an alternative to woodblock printing was a system of reprography
Reprography
Reprography is the reproduction of graphics through mechanical or electrical means, such as photography or xerography. Reprography is commonly used in catalogs and archives, as well as in the architectural, engineering, and construction industries....

 since the Han Dynasty using carved stone stele
Stele
A stele , also stela , is a stone or wooden slab, generally taller than it is wide, erected for funerals or commemorative purposes, most usually decorated with the names and titles of the deceased or living — inscribed, carved in relief , or painted onto the slab...

s to reproduce pages of text.

In India the main importance of the technique has always been as a method of printing textiles, which has been a large industry for centuries. Large quantities of printed Indian silk
Silk
Silk is a natural protein fiber, some forms of which can be woven into textiles. The best-known type of silk is obtained from the cocoons of the larvae of the mulberry silkworm Bombyx mori reared in captivity...

 and cotton
Cotton
Cotton is a soft, fluffy staple fiber that grows in a boll, or protective capsule, around the seeds of cotton plants of the genus Gossypium. The fiber is almost pure cellulose. The botanical purpose of cotton fiber is to aid in seed dispersal....

 were exported to Europe throughout the Modern Period.

The three necessary components for woodblock printing are the wood block, which carries the design cut in relief
Relief carving
Relief carving as a type of woodcarving is as old as antiquity, yet it is still enjoyed by carvers today. Though it is not as popular as other forms of wood carving, it is gaining in popularity because of its versatility as a medium of artistic expression. There is essentially no limit to this form...

; dye or ink
Ink
Ink is a liquid or paste that contains pigments and/or dyes and is used to color a surface to produce an image, text, or design. Ink is used for drawing and/or writing with a pen, brush, or quill...

, which had been widely used in the ancient world; and either cloth or paper
Paper
Paper is a thin material mainly used for writing upon, printing upon, drawing or for packaging. It is produced by pressing together moist fibers, typically cellulose pulp derived from wood, rags or grasses, and drying them into flexible sheets....

, which was first developed in China, around the 3rd century BC or 2nd century BC. Woodblock printing on papyrus
Papyrus
Papyrus is a thick paper-like material produced from the pith of the papyrus plant, Cyperus papyrus, a wetland sedge that was once abundant in the Nile Delta of Egypt....

 seems never to have been practised, although it would be possible.

Because Chinese
Chinese written language
Written Chinese comprises Chinese characters used to represent the Chinese language, and the rules about how they are arranged and punctuated. Chinese characters do not constitute an alphabet or a compact syllabary...

 has a character set running into the thousands, woodblock printing suits it better than movable type
Movable type
Movable type is the system of printing and typography that uses movable components to reproduce the elements of a document ....

 to the extent that characters only need to be created as they occur in the text. Although the Chinese had invented a form of movable type
Movable type
Movable type is the system of printing and typography that uses movable components to reproduce the elements of a document ....

 with baked clay in the 11th century, and metal movable type was invented in Korea in the 13th century, woodblocks continued to be preferred owing to the formidable challenges of typesetting Chinese text with its 40,000 or more characters. Also, the objective of printing in the East may have been more focused on standardization of ritual text (such as the Buddhist canon Tripitaka
Tripiṭaka
' is a traditional term used by various Buddhist sects to describe their various canons of scriptures. As the name suggests, a traditionally contains three "baskets" of teachings: a , a and an .-The three categories:Tripitaka is the three main categories of texts that make up the...

, requiring 130,000 woodblocks), and the purity of validated woodblocks could be maintained for centuries. When there was a need for the reproduction of a text, the original block could simply be brought out again, while moveable type necessitated error-prone composition of distinct "editions".

In China, Korea
Korea
Korea ) is an East Asian geographic region that is currently divided into two separate sovereign states — North Korea and South Korea. Located on the Korean Peninsula, Korea is bordered by the People's Republic of China to the northwest, Russia to the northeast, and is separated from Japan to the...

, and Japan
Japan
Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

, the state involved itself in printing at a relatively early stage; initially only the government had the resources to finance the carving of the blocks for long works.

The difference between East Asian woodblock printing and the Western printing press
Printing press
A printing press is a device for applying pressure to an inked surface resting upon a print medium , thereby transferring the ink...

 had major implications for the development of book culture and book markets in East Asia and Europe.

Early books

Woodblock printing in China is strongly associated with Buddhism
Buddhism
Buddhism is a religion and philosophy encompassing a variety of traditions, beliefs and practices, largely based on teachings attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, commonly known as the Buddha . The Buddha lived and taught in the northeastern Indian subcontinent some time between the 6th and 4th...

, which encouraged the spread of charms and sutras. In the Tang Dynasty, a Chinese
Chinese people
The term Chinese people may refer to any of the following:*People with Han Chinese ethnicity ....

 writer named Fenzhi first mentioned in his book "Yuan Xian San Ji" that the woodblock was used to print Buddhist scriptures during the Zhenguan years (AD 627~649).

An early example of woodblock printing on paper, was discovered in 1974 in an excavation in Xi'an
Xi'an
Xi'an is the capital of the Shaanxi province, and a sub-provincial city in the People's Republic of China. One of the oldest cities in China, with more than 3,100 years of history, the city was known as Chang'an before the Ming Dynasty...

 (then called Chang'an
Chang'an
Chang'an is an ancient capital of more than ten dynasties in Chinese history, today known as Xi'an. Chang'an literally means "Perpetual Peace" in Classical Chinese. During the short-lived Xin Dynasty, the city was renamed "Constant Peace" ; yet after its fall in AD 23, the old name was restored...

, the capital of Tang Dynasty), Shaanxi
Shaanxi
' is a province in the central part of Mainland China, and it includes portions of the Loess Plateau on the middle reaches of the Yellow River in addition to the Qinling Mountains across the southern part of this province...

, China, whereby individual sheets of paper were pressed into wooden blocks with the text and illustrations carved into them. It is a dharani
Dharani
A ' is a type of ritual speech similar to a mantra. The terms dharani and satheesh may be seen as synonyms, although they are normally used in distinct contexts....

sutra printed on hemp
Hemp
Hemp is mostly used as a name for low tetrahydrocannabinol strains of the plant Cannabis sativa, of fiber and/or oilseed varieties. In modern times, hemp has been used for industrial purposes including paper, textiles, biodegradable plastics, construction, health food and fuel with modest...

 paper and dated to 650 to 670 AD, during Tang Dynasty
Tang Dynasty
The Tang Dynasty was an imperial dynasty of China preceded by the Sui Dynasty and followed by the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period. It was founded by the Li family, who seized power during the decline and collapse of the Sui Empire...

 (618–907). Another printed document dating to the early half of the Chinese Tang Dynasty has also been found, the Snddharma pundarik sutra printed from 690 to 699.
Another old printing example is the Dharani sutra that is dated between AD 704 and 751. It was found at Bulguksa
Bulguksa
Bulguksa is a head temple of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism in the North Gyeongsang province in South Korea. It is home to seven National treasures of South Korea, including Dabotap and Seokgatap stone pagodas, Cheongun-gyo , and two gilt-bronze statues of Buddha. The temple is classified as...

, South Korea
South Korea
The Republic of Korea , , is a sovereign state in East Asia, located on the southern portion of the Korean Peninsula. It is neighbored by the People's Republic of China to the west, Japan to the east, North Korea to the north, and the East China Sea and Republic of China to the south...

 in 1966. Its Buddhist text was printed on a 8 centimetre mulberry
Paper Mulberry
The Paper Mulberry is a tree in the family Moraceae, native to eastern Asia. Other names include Dak, Halibun, Kalivon, Kozo, and Tapacloth tree.It is a deciduous tree growing to tall...

 paper scroll in the early Korean Kingdom of Unified Silla
Unified Silla
Unified Silla or Later Silla is the name often applied to the Korean kingdom of Silla, one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea, when it conquered Baekje in 660 and Goguryeo in 668, unifying the southern portion of the Korean peninsula...

. Another version of the Dharani sutra, printed in Japan around AD 770, is also frequently cited as an example of early printing. One million copies of the sutra, along with other prayers, were ordered to be produced by Empress Shōtoku. As each copy was then stored in a tiny wooden pagoda, the copies are together known as the Hyakumantō Darani
Hyakumanto Darani
The , literally the One Million Pagodas and Dharani Prayers, is a famous large-scale woodblock printing, the earliest recorded uses of woodblock printing in Japan....

(百万塔陀羅尼, "1,000,000 towers/pagodas Darani").

The world's earliest dated (AD 868) printed book is a Chinese scroll about sixteen feet long and containing the text of the Diamond Sutra
Diamond Sutra
The Diamond Sūtra , is a short and well-known Mahāyāna sūtra from the Prajñāpāramitā, or "Perfection of Wisdom" genre, and emphasizes the practice of non-abiding and non-attachment...

. It was found in 1907 by the archaeologist Sir Marc Aurel Stein
Marc Aurel Stein
Sir Marc Aurel Stein KCIE, FBA was a Hungarian archaeologist, primarily known for his explorations and archaeological discoveries in Central Asia. He was also a professor at various Indian universities.-Early life:Stein was born in Budapest into a Jewish family...

 in Mogao Caves
Mogao Caves
The Mogao Caves or Mogao Grottoes , also known as the Caves of the Thousand Buddhas , form a system of 492 temples southeast of the center of Dunhuang, an oasis strategically located at a religious and cultural crossroads on the Silk Road, in Gansu province, China...

 in Dunhuang
Dunhuang
Dunhuang is a city in northwestern Gansu province, Western China. It was a major stop on the ancient Silk Road. It was also known at times as Shāzhōu , or 'City of Sands', a name still used today...

, and is now in the British Museum
British Museum
The British Museum is a museum of human history and culture in London. Its collections, which number more than seven million objects, are amongst the largest and most comprehensive in the world and originate from all continents, illustrating and documenting the story of human culture from its...

. The book displays a great maturity of design and layout and speaks of a considerable ancestry for woodblock printing. The colophon, at the inner end, reads: Reverently [caused to be] made for universal free distribution by Wang Jie on behalf of his two parents on the 13th of the 4th moon of the 9th year of Xiantong [i.e. 11 May, AD 868 ].

In late 10th century China the complete Buddhist canon Tripitaka
Tripiṭaka
' is a traditional term used by various Buddhist sects to describe their various canons of scriptures. As the name suggests, a traditionally contains three "baskets" of teachings: a , a and an .-The three categories:Tripitaka is the three main categories of texts that make up the...

 of 130,000 pages was printed with blocks, which took between 1080 and 1102, and many other very long works were printed. Early books were on scroll
Scroll
A scroll is a roll of parchment, papyrus, or paper, which has been drawn or written upon.Scroll may also refer to:*Scroll , the decoratively curved end of the pegbox of string instruments such as violins...

s, but other book formats
Traditional Chinese bookbinding
Traditional Chinese bookbinding refers to the method of bookbinding that the Chinese have used in recent centuries, before converting to the modern codex form.It is also called stitched binding...

 were developed. First came the Jingzhe zhuang or "sutra binding", a scroll folded concertina-wise, which avoided the need to unroll half a scroll to see a passage in the middle. About AD 1000 "butterfly binding" was developed; two pages were printed on a sheet, which was then folded inwards. The sheets were then pasted together at the fold to make a codex
Codex
A codex is a book in the format used for modern books, with multiple quires or gatherings typically bound together and given a cover.Developed by the Romans from wooden writing tablets, its gradual replacement...

 with alternate openings of printed and blank pairs of pages. In the 14th century the folding was reversed outwards to give continuous printed pages, each backed by a blank hidden page. Later the bindings were sewn rather than pasted. Only relatively small volumes (juan) were bound up, and several of these would be enclosed in a cover called a tao, with wooden boards at front and back, and loops and pegs to close up the book when not in use. For example one complete Tripitaka had over 6,400 juan in 595 tao.

Eurasia

The technique is found through East and Central Asia, and in the Byzantine
Byzantine
Byzantine usually refers to the Roman Empire during the Middle Ages.Byzantine may also refer to:* A citizen of the Byzantine Empire, or native Greek during the Middle Ages...

 world for cloth, and by AD 1000 examples of woodblock printing on paper appear in Islamic Egypt
Egypt
Egypt , officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, Arabic: , is a country mainly in North Africa, with the Sinai Peninsula forming a land bridge in Southwest Asia. Egypt is thus a transcontinental country, and a major power in Africa, the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and the Muslim world...

. Printing onto cloth had spread much earlier, and was common in Europe by 1300. "In the 15th century the Chinese technique of blockprinting was transmitted to Europe," soon after paper became available in Europe. The print
Old master print
An old master print is a work of art produced by a printing process within the Western tradition . A date of about 1830 is usually taken as marking the end of the period whose prints are covered by this term. The main techniques concerned are woodcut, engraving and etching, although there are...

 in woodcut
Woodcut
Woodcut—occasionally known as xylography—is a relief printing artistic technique in printmaking in which an image is carved into the surface of a block of wood, with the printing parts remaining level with the surface while the non-printing parts are removed, typically with gouges...

, later joined by engraving
Engraving
Engraving is the practice of incising a design on to a hard, usually flat surface, by cutting grooves into it. The result may be a decorated object in itself, as when silver, gold, steel, or glass are engraved, or may provide an intaglio printing plate, of copper or another metal, for printing...

, quickly became an important cultural tradition for popular religious works, as well as playing cards and other uses.

Many early Chinese examples, such as the Diamond Sutra (above) contain images, mostly Buddhist, that are often elaborate. Later, some notable artists designed woodblock images for books, but the separate artistic print did not develop in China as it did in Europe and Japan. Apart from devotional images, mainly Buddhist, few "single-leaf" Chinese prints were made until the 19th century.

15th century Europe

Block-books, where both text and images are cut on a single block for a whole page, appeared in Europe in the 1460s as a cheaper alternative to books printed by movable type
Movable type
Movable type is the system of printing and typography that uses movable components to reproduce the elements of a document ....

. These are different from woodcut
Woodcut
Woodcut—occasionally known as xylography—is a relief printing artistic technique in printmaking in which an image is carved into the surface of a block of wood, with the printing parts remaining level with the surface while the non-printing parts are removed, typically with gouges...

s illustrated books using images, perhaps with a title, cut in a single block and used as a book illustration with the adjacent text printed using movable type. The only example of the blockbook form that contains no images is the school textbook Latin grammar of Donatus
Aelius Donatus
Aelius Donatus was a Roman grammarian and teacher of rhetoric. The only fact known regarding his life is that he was the tutor of St...

.

The most famous block-books are the Speculum Humanae Salvationis
Speculum Humanae Salvationis
The Speculum Humanae Salvationis or Mirror of Human Salvation was a bestselling anonymous illustrated work of popular theology in the late Middle Ages, part of the genre of encyclopedic speculum literature, in this case concentrating on the medieval theory of typology, whereby the events of the Old...

 and the Ars moriendi
Ars moriendi
The Ars moriendi are two related Latin texts dating from about 1415 and 1450 which offer advice on the protocols and procedures of a good death, explaining how to "die well" according to Christian precepts of the late Middle Ages...

, though in this the images and text are on different pages, but all block-cut. The Biblia pauperum
Biblia pauperum
The Biblia pauperum was a tradition of picture Bibles beginning in the later Middle Ages. They sought to portray the historical books of the Bible visually. Unlike a simple "illustrated Bible", where the pictures are subordinated to the text, these Bibles placed the illustration in the centre,...

, a Biblical picture-book, was the next most common title, and the great majority of block-books were popular devotional works. All block-books are fairly short at less than fifty pages. While in Europe movable metal type soon became cheap enough to replace woodblock printing for the reproduction of text, woodcuts remained a major way to reproduce images in illustrated works of early modern European printing. See old master print
Old master print
An old master print is a work of art produced by a printing process within the Western tradition . A date of about 1830 is usually taken as marking the end of the period whose prints are covered by this term. The main techniques concerned are woodcut, engraving and etching, although there are...

.

Most block-books before about 1480 were printed on only one side of the paper — if they were printed by rubbing it would be difficult to print on both sides without damaging the first one to be printed. Many were printed with two pages per sheet, producing a book with opening of two printed pages, followed by openings with two blank pages (as earlier in China). The blank pages were then glued together to produce a book looking like a type-printed one. Where both sides of a sheet have been printed, it is presumed a printing-press was used.

The method was also used extensively for printing playing cards.

Colour

The earliest woodblock printing known is in colour—Chinese
China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

 silk
Silk
Silk is a natural protein fiber, some forms of which can be woven into textiles. The best-known type of silk is obtained from the cocoons of the larvae of the mulberry silkworm Bombyx mori reared in captivity...

 from the Han Dynasty
Han Dynasty
The Han Dynasty was the second imperial dynasty of China, preceded by the Qin Dynasty and succeeded by the Three Kingdoms . It was founded by the rebel leader Liu Bang, known posthumously as Emperor Gaozu of Han. It was briefly interrupted by the Xin Dynasty of the former regent Wang Mang...

 printed in three colours.

On paper, European woodcut prints with coloured blocks were invented in Germany in 1508 and are known as chiaroscuro woodcuts.

Colour is very common in Asian woodblock printing on paper; in China
China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

 the first known example is a Diamond sutra of 1341, printed in black and red at the Zifu Temple in modern day Hubei province. The earliest dated book printed in more than 2 colours is Chengshi moyuan, a book on ink-cakes printed in 1606 and the technique reached its height in books on art published in the first half of the 17th century. Notable examples are the Treatise on the Paintings and Writings of the Ten Bamboo Studio of 1633, and the Mustard Seed Garden Painting Manual published in 1679 and 1701.

In Japan
Japan
Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

, a multi-colour technique, called nishiki-e
Nishiki-e
refers to Japanese multi-colored woodblock printing; this technique is used primarily in ukiyo-e. It was invented in the 1760s, and perfected and popularized by the printmaker Suzuki Harunobu, who produced a great many nishiki-e prints between 1765 and his death five years later.Previously, most...

 ("brocade pictures"), spread more widely, and was used for prints, from the 1760s on. Japanese woodcut became a major artistic form, although at the time it was accorded a much lower status than painting.

In both Europe and Japan, book illustrations were normally printed in black ink only, and colour reserved for individual artistic prints. In China, the reverse was true, and colour printing was used mainly in books on art and erotica.

Japan

The earliest known woodblock printing dates from 764-770, when an Empress commissioned one million small wooden pagoda
Pagoda
A pagoda is the general term in the English language for a tiered tower with multiple eaves common in Nepal, India, China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam and other parts of Asia. Some pagodas are used as Taoist houses of worship. Most pagodas were built to have a religious function, most commonly Buddhist,...

s containing short printed scrolls - typically 6 centimetre - to be distributed to temples. Apart from the production of Buddhist texts, which became widespread from the 11th century in Japan, the process was only adopted in Japan for secular books surprisingly late, and a Chinese
Chinese language
The Chinese language is a language or language family consisting of varieties which are mutually intelligible to varying degrees. Originally the indigenous languages spoken by the Han Chinese in China, it forms one of the branches of Sino-Tibetan family of languages...

-Japanese
Japanese language
is a language spoken by over 130 million people in Japan and in Japanese emigrant communities. It is a member of the Japonic language family, which has a number of proposed relationships with other languages, none of which has gained wide acceptance among historical linguists .Japanese is an...

 dictionary of 1590 is the earliest known example.

Though the Jesuits operated a movable type
Movable type
Movable type is the system of printing and typography that uses movable components to reproduce the elements of a document ....

 printing-press in Nagasaki, printing equipment brought back by Toyotomi Hideyoshi
Toyotomi Hideyoshi
was a daimyo warrior, general and politician of the Sengoku period. He unified the political factions of Japan. He succeeded his former liege lord, Oda Nobunaga, and brought an end to the Sengoku period. The period of his rule is often called the Momoyama period, named after Hideyoshi's castle...

's army from Korea
Korea
Korea ) is an East Asian geographic region that is currently divided into two separate sovereign states — North Korea and South Korea. Located on the Korean Peninsula, Korea is bordered by the People's Republic of China to the northwest, Russia to the northeast, and is separated from Japan to the...

 in 1593 had far greater influence on the development of the medium. Four years later, Tokugawa Ieyasu
Tokugawa Ieyasu
 was the founder and first shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate of Japan , which ruled from the Battle of Sekigahara  in 1600 until the Meiji Restoration in 1868. Ieyasu seized power in 1600, received appointment as shogun in 1603, abdicated from office in 1605, but...

, even before becoming shogun
Shogun
A was one of the hereditary military dictators of Japan from 1192 to 1867. In this period, the shoguns, or their shikken regents , were the de facto rulers of Japan though they were nominally appointed by the emperor...

, effected the creation of the first native movable type, using wooden type-pieces rather than metal. He oversaw the creation of 100,000 type-pieces, which were used to print a number of political and historical texts.

An edition of the Confucian
Confucius
Confucius , literally "Master Kong", was a Chinese thinker and social philosopher of the Spring and Autumn Period....

 Analects was printed in 1598, using a Korean moveable type printing press, at the order of Emperor Go-Yōzei
Emperor Go-Yozei
was the 107th Emperor of Japan, according to the traditional order of succession.Go-Yōzei's reign spanned the years from 1586 through 1611, corresponding to the transition between the Azuchi-Momoyama period and the Edo period....

. This document is the oldest work of Japanese moveable type printing extant today. Despite the appeal of moveable type, however, it was soon decided that the running script style of Japanese writings would be better reproduced using woodblocks, and so woodblocks were once more adopted; by 1640 they were once again being used for nearly all purposes.

It quickly gained popularity among artists of ukiyo-e
Ukiyo-e
' is a genre of Japanese woodblock prints and paintings produced between the 17th and the 20th centuries, featuring motifs of landscapes, tales from history, the theatre, and pleasure quarters...

, and was used to produce small, cheap, art prints as well as books. Japan began to see something of literary mass production. The content of these books varied widely, including travel guides, advice manuals, kibyōshi
Kibyoshi
' is a genre of Japanese picture book kusazōshi produced during the middle of the Edo period, from 1775 to the early 19th century. Physically identifiable by their yellow-backed covers, kibyōshi were typically printed in 10 page volumes, many spanning two to three volumes in length, with the...

(satirical novels), sharebon
Sharebon
The was a pre-modern Japanese literary genre. Plots revolved around humor and entertainment at the pleasure quarters. It is a sub-genre of gesaku.-Characteristics:As a sub-genre of gesaku, humor was a major aspect to each story...

(books on urban culture), art books, and play scripts for the jōruri
Bunraku
, also known as Ningyō jōruri , is a form of traditional Japanese puppet theater, founded in Osaka in 1684.Three kinds of performers take part in a bunraku performance:* Ningyōtsukai or Ningyōzukai—puppeteers* Tayū—the chanters* Shamisen players...

(puppet) theatre. Often, within a certain genre, such as the jōruri theatre scripts, a particular style of writing would come to be the standard for that genre; in other words, one person's personal calligraphic style was adopted as the standard style for printing plays.

France

Woodblock printing on wallpaper became famous in France at the end of the 18th century. Manufactures like Joseph Dufour et Cie
Joseph Dufour et Cie
Joseph Dufour et Cie, founded 1797 by Joseph and Pierre Dufour, was a s a French Manufacture de Papier Peints et Tissus manufacturer located in Mâcon, France.-General:...

 (1797 - c. 1830) or Zuber et Cie (founded 1797) used the woodblock printing for wall paper production. In 1806, in collaboration with the artist Jean-Gabriel Charvet
Jean-Gabriel Charvet
Jean-Gabriel Charvet , also known as Jean Gabriel Charvet, was a French painter, designer and draftsman who was born in Serrières, Ardèche, France. He studied at the École de Dessin in Lyon under the French artist Donat Nonotte and worked as a designer for the French wallpaper manufacturer Joseph...

, Dufour et Cie produced a twenty-panel set of scenic wallpaper entitled Sauvages de la Mer du Pacifique (Savages of the Pacific), which became very famous. It was the largest panoramic wallpaper of its time, and marked the burgeoning of a French industry in panoramic wallpapers. Dufour realized almost immediate success from the sale of these papers and enjoyed a lively trade with America. The Neoclassic
Neoclassicism
Neoclassicism is the name given to Western movements in the decorative and visual arts, literature, theatre, music, and architecture that draw inspiration from the "classical" art and culture of Ancient Greece or Ancient Rome...

 spirit currently in favor was accented handsomely in houses of the Federal period
Federal architecture
Federal-style architecture is the name for the classicizing architecture built in the United States between c. 1780 and 1830, and particularly from 1785 to 1815. This style shares its name with its era, the Federal Period. The name Federal style is also used in association with furniture design...

 by the exaggerated elegance of Charvet's scenes. Like most of 18th century wallpapers, the panorama was designed to be hung above a dado
Dado (architecture)
In architectural terminology, the dado, borrowed from Italian meaning die or plinth, is the lower part of a wall, below the dado rail and above the skirting board....

.

While Joseph Dufour et Cie
Joseph Dufour et Cie
Joseph Dufour et Cie, founded 1797 by Joseph and Pierre Dufour, was a s a French Manufacture de Papier Peints et Tissus manufacturer located in Mâcon, France.-General:...

 was shut down in the 1830ies Zuber et Cie is still existing and claims to be the last factory in the world to produce woodblock printed wallpapers and furnishing fabrics.

For its production Zuber uses woodblocks out of an archive of more than 100,000 engraved from the 17th and 19th century which are classified as a "Historical Monument". It offers panoramic sceneries such as "Vue de l'Amérique Nord", "Eldorado Hindoustan" or "Isola Bella" and also wallpapers, friezes and ceilings as well as hand-printed furnishing fabrics.

Further development in East Asia

In East Asia, woodblock printing proved to be more enduring than in Europe, continuing well into the 19th century as the major form of printing texts, especially in China, even after the introduction of the European printing press.

In countries using Arabic, Turkish and similar scripts, works, especially the Qur'an
Qur'an
The Quran , also transliterated Qur'an, Koran, Alcoran, Qur’ān, Coran, Kuran, and al-Qur’ān, is the central religious text of Islam, which Muslims consider the verbatim word of God . It is regarded widely as the finest piece of literature in the Arabic language...

 were sometimes printed by lithography
Lithography
Lithography is a method for printing using a stone or a metal plate with a completely smooth surface...

 in the 19th century, as the links between the characters require compromises when movable type is used which were considered inappropriate for sacred texts.

Nianhua were a form of coloured
Color
Color or colour is the visual perceptual property corresponding in humans to the categories called red, green, blue and others. Color derives from the spectrum of light interacting in the eye with the spectral sensitivities of the light receptors...

 woodlblock prints in China, depicting images for decoration during the Chinese New Year
Chinese New Year
Chinese New Year – often called Chinese Lunar New Year although it actually is lunisolar – is the most important of the traditional Chinese holidays. It is an all East and South-East-Asia celebration...

.

Materials other than paper

Block printing has also been extensively used for decorative purposes such as fabric
Textile
A textile or cloth is a flexible woven material consisting of a network of natural or artificial fibres often referred to as thread or yarn. Yarn is produced by spinning raw fibres of wool, flax, cotton, or other material to produce long strands...

s and wallpaper
Wallpaper
Wallpaper is a kind of material used to cover and decorate the interior walls of homes, offices, and other buildings; it is one aspect of interior decoration. It is usually sold in rolls and is put onto a wall using wallpaper paste...

. This is easiest with repetitive patterns composed of one or a small number of motifs
Motif (art)
In art, a motif is an element of a pattern, an image or part of one, or a theme. A motif may be repeated in a design or composition, often many times, or may just occur once in a work. A motif may be an element in the iconography of a particular subject or type of subject that is seen in other...

 that are small to medium in size (due to the difficulty of carving and handling larger blocks). For a multi-colour pattern, each colour element is carved as a separate block and individually inked and applied. Block printing was the standard method of producing wallpaper
Wallpaper
Wallpaper is a kind of material used to cover and decorate the interior walls of homes, offices, and other buildings; it is one aspect of interior decoration. It is usually sold in rolls and is put onto a wall using wallpaper paste...

 until the early 20th century, and is still used by a few traditionalist firms. It also remains in use for making cloth, mostly in small artisanal settings, for example in India
India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

.

See also

  • Woodcut
    Woodcut
    Woodcut—occasionally known as xylography—is a relief printing artistic technique in printmaking in which an image is carved into the surface of a block of wood, with the printing parts remaining level with the surface while the non-printing parts are removed, typically with gouges...

  • Woodblock printing on textiles
    Woodblock printing on textiles
    Woodblock printing on textiles is the process of printing patterns on textiles, usually of linen, cotton or silk, by means of incised wooden blocks. It is the earliest, simplest and slowest of all methods of textile printing. Block printing by hand is a slow process...

  • Wood engraving
    Wood engraving
    Wood engraving is a technique in printmaking where the "matrix" worked by the artist is a block of wood. It is a variety of woodcut and so a relief printing technique, where ink is applied to the face of the block and printed by using relatively low pressure. A normal engraving, like an etching,...

  • Banhua
    Banhua
    Banhua is the Chinese umbrella term for any printed art objects, and especially for those made by woodblock printing, the term used for woodcuts from Asia.-History:...

  • Old master print
    Old master print
    An old master print is a work of art produced by a printing process within the Western tradition . A date of about 1830 is usually taken as marking the end of the period whose prints are covered by this term. The main techniques concerned are woodcut, engraving and etching, although there are...

  • New Year picture
    New Year picture
    A New Year picture , is an important and popular Banhua in China. It is a form of Chinese coloured woodblock printing, for decoration during the Chinese New Year Holiday.- Background :...

  • ukiyo-e
    Ukiyo-e
    ' is a genre of Japanese woodblock prints and paintings produced between the 17th and the 20th centuries, featuring motifs of landscapes, tales from history, the theatre, and pleasure quarters...

  • scroll
    Scroll
    A scroll is a roll of parchment, papyrus, or paper, which has been drawn or written upon.Scroll may also refer to:*Scroll , the decoratively curved end of the pegbox of string instruments such as violins...


Further reading

  • Jonathan Bloom, Paper Before Print. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001.
  • Tsuen-Hsuin, Tsien. Science and Civilisation in China. Volume 5, Part 1: Paper and Printing. Cambridge University Press, 1993.
  • Imma Socias Batet, Les Beceroles tabel·làries de la Biblioteca de Catalunya. Barcelona: Biblioteca de Catalunya, 1992.

External links

The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.
 
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