The Printmaker’s Ingenuity and Craft: Ming and Qing Prints in the National Palace Museum
Period 2015/7/18-2016/1/10,Room 104

Woodcut printmaking and book printing went hand in hand on a similar path of development in historical China. With the advancement of woodblock printing, book illustrations gradually obtained artistic qualities on top of their practical function of augmenting textual interpretation. The development of the art of book illustration between the Wanli period of the Ming and the Qianlong reign of the Qing is considered an out-standing achievement in the annals of Chinese culture. During the Ming the scale of commercial printmaking outran that of its officially commissioned counterpart. Various schools emerged and flourished. The genre bloomed in terms of its printing techniques, delivery of themes, styles of presentation, and even market circulation. In early Qing, the production of illustrated books was, under official guidance, no longer confined to the application of wood engraving, as the process of copperplate printing had been introduced from Europe. The development of book illustration in China thus took a new turn.

Woodcut prints are illustrated works produced with the techniques of drawing, engraving, and printing. When prints and texts are integrated into books, the communicative effects of book illustrations are soon achieved once they are reproduced and circulated, as the visual art embedded in the illustrations immediately becomes the key to the attractiveness of the books. Amongst the rare and antiquarian books in the National Palace Museum, those from Ming and Qing dynasties showcasing prints and illustrations are found in the categories of jing (classics), shi (histories), zi (philosophical texts), and ji (literary anthologies). Of these, the zi category boasts the broadest and richest deposit of woodcut prints that depict the various aspects of the lives of those who lived before us.

The exhibition is set to demonstrate the effectiveness of book illustrations in terms of their educational, en-tertainment, and communicative functions during the Ming and Qing dynasties. Further, by comparing the visualization of antiquities, paintings, calligraphic works, and book illustrations, it intends to elaborate on the printmaker’s composition process from drawing to engraving, and from planar presentation to three-dimensional rendition, so as to get a glimpse into the ingenuity of our forefathers in putting cultural creativity to work by merging art creation and book distribution. It is divided into four sections. The first, “An Overview of Chinese Book Illustrations,” outlines the development of the art from the form of flyleaf prints in Buddhist scriptures to the emergence of various printmaking styles during the Ming and Qing dynasties. The second section, “Creative Woodcut Prints,” addresses the process of carving an image into a block of wood and having the printed image included in a book, as well as its planar and tree-dimensional mode of presentation. The third section, “The Ingenious Craft of Engraving,” deals with monochrome and polychrome printing of woodcut illustrations, as well as the technical renovations brought to the genre by the introduction of etching and lithography, so that the audiences may experience and observe the immense creative drive of the artists of the past. The last section, “Innovation from Tradition,” highlights the works of modern printmakers, and offers the audiences an opportunity to witness, through a survey of the processes involved in the making of today’s woodcut illustrations, the kind of new life they have injected into the art, vis-à-vis the compositional and technical traditions with which they have perfected their craftsmanship.