Cambridge University Library, oldest multicolor printed book, Manual of Calligraphy and Painting, watercolor-like book, Chinese book, Douban, nature drawings, Chinese poems, hand-painted book

Ten Bamboo Studio crafted the mysterious ‘Manual of Calligraphy and Painting’ in 1633, in Nanjing. It is the earliest known example of polychrome xylography, which was invented by Hu Zhengyan. The technique, also referred to as Douban, achieves stunning gradations of color and a hand-painted watercolor aesthetic thanks to the use of several printing blocks (applied in succession) and inks.

Related: Artist Bovery Lee Draws Detailed Scenes of Power, Sacrifice and Survival with a Knife

Described as ‘perhaps the most beautiful set of prints ever made,’ the softly colored manual was a mystery until now. The stunning illustrations, which are also poems, are now available online for anyone to see, and it won’t cost a dime.

The digitalized Chinese collection also includes the Oracle Bones, known as the earliest example of Buddhist text written in Chinese script, and a 14th century banknote that threatens thieves with decapitation.

+ Cambridge University Library

Via This is Colossal and Hyperallergic

Photos by Cambridge University Library