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The Chinese Book

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In the year 2000 the National Museums of Scotland mounted an exhibition entitled ‘Source’. Craftworkers all over Scotland were invited to create a piece of work influenced by any object in any Scottish museum. The pages [accompanying this article] are from a ‘concertina’ book made by the calligrapher Susan Leiper, which she based on a traditional Chinese woodblock-printed almanac in the Royal Museum’s Ivy Wu Gallery.

Following the dictum of the famous German calligrapher Friedrich Neugebauer, that ‘the ideal manuscript book would be made by one person, acting as author, scribe, illuminator and binder’, Susan set out to compose, write, illustrate and bind a Chinese cookery manual, covering the principal ingredients of fish and seafood, meat and poultry, vegetables, carbohydrates and desserts. Each ingredient is illustrated [in] a solid block of text.

In China the concertina format was a development from the long horizontal scroll printed with religious texts.

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In the year 2000 the National Museums of Scotland mounted an exhibition entitled ‘Source’. Craftworkers all over Scotland were invited to create a piece of work influenced by any object in any Scottish museum. The pages [accompanying this article] are from a ‘concertina’ book made by the calligrapher Susan Leiper, which she based on a traditional Chinese woodblock-printed almanac in the Royal Museum’s Ivy Wu Gallery.

Following the dictum of the famous German calligrapher Friedrich Neugebauer, that ‘the ideal manuscript book would be made by one person, acting as author, scribe, illuminator and binder’, Susan set out to compose, write, illustrate and bind a Chinese cookery manual, covering the principal ingredients of fish and seafood, meat and poultry, vegetables, carbohydrates and desserts. Each ingredient is illustrated [in] a solid block of text. In China the concertina format was a development from the long horizontal scroll printed with religious texts. To ease the handling of such scrolls, monks developed the idea of folding them in such a way that a particular passage could be easily located and then kept open. The books were the same height as the scrolls, probably because paper was made to a standard size, that is about 25 to 30 cm wide, with the width of each page about half to two-thirds of the height. From the early stages of printing in China, which began in the ninth century, it was common practice to place illustration above text, with the vertical columns of text often separated by thin lines. By the late sixteenth century, during the Ming dynasty, when printing in Europe had been going for only just over a hundred years, Chinese printing had reached its apogee. Woodblock-printed books included technical manuals, religious texts, plays, poetry and racy romantic novels. Possibly as an encouragement or aid to literacy, the picture above, text below’ format became increasingly popular.

Extract from Slightly Foxed Issue 1 © Susan Leiper 2004


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