“A Masterpiece of Color Printing and Design”

Shi zhu zhai shu hua pu 十竹齋書畫譜 [J.: Jūchikusai shoga fu; Ten Bamboo Studio Collection of Calligraphy & Painting].

Numerous full-page woodblock color illus. 16 vols. 8vo, orig. wrappers with orig. title slips, butterfly binding. [Kyoto]: [Hishiya Magobei], [1831].

A fine set of a Japanese edition of this Chinese “masterpiece of color printing and design” (Robert T. Paine Jr., “The Ten Bamboo Studio,” Bulletin of the Museum of Fine Arts 48.274 [1950]: p. 72). The Ten Bamboo Studio Collection of Calligraphy and Painting is a book of finely printed images of rocks, birds, plants, and other motifs, along with poetry reproduced in calligraphy. The book is most famous for its use of woodblock printing in color. The earliest dated leaf in the set is from 1619, while the book’s general introduction is dated 1633. It is not clear whether the book was first published as a complete set in 1633 or whether some leaves were printed earlier as they were finished. If some leaves were printed already in 1619, “then these would be the first known example of true color printing (i.e. multiple-color printing done with more than one wood block and requiring careful registration of successive impressions) in East Asia” (Thomas Ebrey, “The Editions, Superstates, and States of the Ten Bamboo Studio Collection of Calligraphy and Painting,” East Asian Library Journal 14.1 [2010]:3). If it was published in 1633, it would still be one of the earliest examples of the technique extant today.

“A major innovation of [the book] was the modulation of the intensity of the ink (and colors) from one end of a block to the other when printing some of the blocks. This was done by wiping off, in a graduated way, some of the ink from the block before it was printed. Because of this and other techniques used by master printers, no two copies of such a printed leaf are ever exactly the same. There is much artistry in the printing of each leaf.” Furthermore, “some of the most beautiful of the prints in the Ten Bamboo Studio Collection are monochrome prints, but these prints also take advantage of multiple-block printing since it allows much more modulation in shading and overlapping of forms than could be done with single-block printing” (Ebrey, p. 9).

The book was edited by Hu Zhengyan (ca. 1582-ca. 1672), of Anhui, who was then active in Nanjing. Yet a number of artists and writers collaborated on producing the book. “Among the names of artists included it is easy to trace a line of development following the regular tradition of the Literary Men’s school.” In this tradition, “art was regarded as something personal and cultural, poetic and comprehensible, a proper means of expression for educated men” (Paine, “The Ten Bamboo Studio: Its Early Editions, Pictures, and Artists,” Archives of the Chinese Art Society of America 5 [1951]: p. 53).

The original blocks were used to produce prints in China for centuries after their carving, and there were also editions produced in Japan, such as our book. In Japan, the book was known quite early on and was influential, contributing to the rise of multicolor woodblock printing in the mid- to late Edo period.

As with many copies of this book, not all images seen in the 1633 edition are included in our copy. “Miscellany” contains 19 images out of 20, “Orchids” 38 out of 39, “Round fans” 19 out of 20, “Rocks” 18 out of 20; “Fruit” 18 out of 20 (as is the case in all copies of the 1831 edition). “Bamboo,” “Plums,” and “Birds” have the same number of illustrations as in the 1633 edition. Ebrey writes about our edition that “each of the seven almost complete sets [that Ebrey investigated] was missing a few pictures, and often the pictures were not in standard order” (Ebrey, p. 56). Our copy accords with this assessment on both points. Moreover, the first page of Wang Sande’s introduction (yin 引) is missing from the “Miscellany” volume. One page is missing from the Preface in the “Birds” volume (as is the case in all copies of the 1831 edition). In our copy, the “brief introduction” (xiaoyin 小引) is not found at the beginning of that volume but after the Preface in the “Fruit” volume.

Judging by the appearance of the bamboo frame surrounding the poems in the “Round fans” volume, our copy is probably a relatively early print from the 1831 edition.

Fine copy, but with pages coming loose from the spine in several volumes. Preserved in the original chitsu.

❧ With thanks to Professor Thomas Ebrey of the University of Washington.

Price: $7,500.00

Item ID: 10190