Digital Treat: Thanks to Cambridge University we can now see inside the world’s first multicolored printed book


The book is called Shi zhu zhai shu hua pu, ‘Manual of Calligraphy and Painting’ and was first published in 1633 in Nanjing. The book is comprised of eight categories – birds, plums, orchids, bamboos, fruit, stones, ink drawings (round fans) and miscellany – and is illustrated by 50 different artists and calligraphers.

It is the earliest known example of multicolor printing in the world:

printed by the technique of polychrome xylography known asdouban invented and perfected by Hu Zhengyan 胡正言 (1584-1674). The method involves the use of multiple printing blocks which successively apply different coloured inks to the paper to reproduce the effect of watercolour painting

For years one of the earliest complete sets of the book has lived at the Cambridge University Library.  Deemed to fragile to handle the book never saw the light of day and was off limits to human hands. 

Now, thanks to the digital revolution, the work is available for all to see






cambridge u multicolor

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More: Too Fragile to Open, World’s Oldest Multicolor Printed Book Is Digitized | Hyperallergic