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Qian Xuan - Early Autumn.jpg
Artwork section of a handscroll, Early Autumn by Song loyalist painter Qian Xuan.[1]
Chinese 手捲

The handscroll is a long narrow scroll for displaying a series of scenes in East Asian painting and calligraphy. The handscroll presents an artwork in the horizontal form and can be exceptionally long, usually measuring up to a few meters in length and around 25–40 cm in height.[2] Handscrolls are generally viewed starting from the right end.[3][4] This kind of scroll is intended to be viewed flat on a table while admiring it section for section during the unrolling as if traveling through a landscape.[4][5] In this way, this format allows for the depiction of a continuous narrative or journey.[6]


The handscroll originated from ancient Chinese text documents.[7] From the Spring and Autumn period (770-481 BCE) through the Han dynasty (206 BCE - 220 CE), bamboo or wooden slips were bound and used to write texts on.[7] During the Eastern Han period (25-220), the use of paper and silk as handscrolls became more common.[7] The handscroll was the one of the main formats for texts up until the Tang dynasty (618-907).[7] Since the Three Kingdoms (220–280), the handscroll became a standard form for mounting artwork.[7] New styles were developed over time.[7]


A handscroll has a backing of protective and decorative silk (包首) with a small title label (題籤) on it.[7] The front of a scroll usually consists of a frontispiece (引首) at the right side, the artwork (畫心) itself in the middle, and a colophon panel (拖尾) at the left side for various inscriptions.[6][7][8] The right side of the scroll, to where the frontispiece was located, is known as the "heaven" (天頭).[7] Vertical strips (隔水) are used to separate the different sections.[7] Most handscrolls display only one painting, although several short paintings can also be mounted on the scroll.[7] On the right end of a scroll is a wooden stave (天杆), which serves as a support to a scroll.[7] A silk cord (帶子) and a fastener (別子) is attached to the stave and used to secure a rolled-up scroll.[7] A wooden roller (木杆) is attached on the left end and forms an axis to help roll up a scroll.[7]


The extant nine scenes of the Admonitions of the Court Instructress, scene 4 at the right to scene 12 at the left
Eight Flowers by Qian Xuan (1235-1305)
Ten Thousand Miles of the Yangtze River, Ming Dynasty (1368–1644)

See also[edit]

  • Emakimono, a Japanese horizontal picture scroll


  1. ^ "Early Autumn (29.1)". Detroit Institute of Arts. Archived from the original on 2 October 2008. Retrieved 24 September 2011. 
  2. ^ Dillon, Michael (1998). China: A historical and cultural dictionary. Richmond: Curzon. p. 273. ISBN 978-0-7007-0439-2. 
  3. ^ Laing, Ellen Johnston (2011). Nietupski, Paul K.; O'Mara, Joan, eds. Reading Asian art and artifacts: Windows to Asia on American college campuses. Lehigh University Press. p. 127. ISBN 978-1-61146-071-1. 
  4. ^ a b Laing, Ellen Johnston. "Chinese Painting". Reading Asian art and artifacts: Windows to Asia on American college campuses. Plymouth: Lehigh University Press. p. 104. ISBN 9781611460704. 
  5. ^ Qu, Lei Lei (2008). The simple art of Chinese brush painting. New York: Sterling. pp. 58–9. ISBN 978-1-4027-5391-6. 
  6. ^ a b Delbanco, Dawn (2008). "Chinese Handscrolls". In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Retrieved 24 September 2011.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n "Famous Handscroll Paintings and Calligraphic Works" (in English) or "手卷名品展" (in Chinese). Taipei: National Palace Museum. Retrieved 24 September 2011.
  8. ^ "Chinese Scrolls". The Art Institute of Chicago. Retrieved 25 September 2011. 

External links[edit]