Page:Japanese Wood Engravings.djvu/15

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Japanese and Chinese in the present day. Mr. Satow[1] has shown how quickly the advantages of the art were realised by the Japanese, and has presented to the British Museum copies of a Buddhist Dharani printed in Japan before the end of the eighth century, and there is reason to assume also that the Koreans, through whom Japan has derived so many of the Chinese arts and sciences, had become possessed of the same knowledge some time before her insular neighbours.

Although we may infer that pictorial engraving on wood was contemporary, or nearly so, with block-printing, there is no evidence to prove the fact. The great edition of the Chinese classics printed in the tenth century contained no illustrations, and the oldest pictorial wood engravings now in existence date only from A.D. 1331. These appear as illustrations to a Buddhist Sutra treating of the Saving Grace of the Goddess Kwanyin, exhibited at the Burlington Fine Arts Club in 1888, and the carefully cut pictures, one of which is reproduced in Fig. 1, prove their engraver to have been no 'prentice hand. Curiously enough, the Chinese, although great makers of illustrated books in later centuries, do not seem to have ever gone beyond this early work in skill of execution. The majority of their cuts indeed are much inferior to it, and even the two famous volumes published in 1796 which represent their dernier mot in pictorial engraving are scarcely superior to it in technique. The works in question, descriptive of the cultivation of rice and the manufacture of silk, are extremely rare, but a photographic reproduction of both, as well as a careful copy by a Japanese engraver, are to be seen in the British Museum.

As a rule Chinese woodcuts are characterised by an angularity that contrasts strongly with the flowing graceful lines of the Japanese engraving, and there is never any of the effective use of masses of black that appears in the engravings of the eighteenth century in Japan. This inferiority on the part of the Chinese is perhaps attributable rather to the draughtsman than to the engraver, and indicates that the cause of book illustration has offered less attraction to the artists of the older country than to those of the later.

The art of polychromatic engraving by the use of a series of wood-

  1. "On Japanese Printing," by Ernest Satow. Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan, vol. x.