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Qian Xuan - Early Autumn.jpg
Section of a handscroll painting, Early Autumn by Song loyalist painter Qian Xuan.[1]

The handscroll is a long, narrow, horizontal scroll format in East Asia used for calligraphy or paintings. A handscroll usually measures up to several meters in length and around 25–40 cm in height.[2] Handscrolls are generally viewed starting from the right end.[3] This kind of scroll is intended to be read or viewed flat on a table, in sections.[3][4] The format thus allows for the depiction of a continuous narrative or journey.[5]


The handscroll format originated with ancient Chinese text documents.[6] From the Spring and Autumn period (770–481 BCE) through the Han dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE), bamboo or wooden slips were bound together and used to write texts on.[6] During the Eastern Han period (25–220), the use of paper and silk in the handscroll format became more common.[6] The handscroll was the one of the main formats for texts up until the Tang dynasty (618–907).[6] Since the Three Kingdoms (220–280), the handscroll became a standard format for paintings.[6] New styles were developed over time.[6]


A handscroll has a backing of protective and decorative silk (包首) usually bearing a small title label (題籤) on it.[6] In Chinese art, the handscroll usually consists of a frontispiece (引首) at the beginning (right side), the artwork (畫心) itself in the middle, and a colophon section (拖尾) at the end for various inscriptions.[5][6][7] The beginning of the scroll, where the frontispiece was located, is known as the "heaven" (天頭).[6] Vertical strips (隔水) are sometimes used to separate the different sections.[6] Most handscrolls contain only one painting, although several short paintings can also be mounted on the scroll.[6] At the beginning of the scroll is a wooden stave (天杆), which serves as a support.[6] A silk cord (帶子) and a fastener (別子) is attached to the stave and used to secure the rolled-up scroll.[6] A wooden roller (木杆) is attached at the very end, around which the scroll is rolled.[6]


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. ^ 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.
  4. ^ Qu, Lei Lei (2008). The simple art of Chinese brush painting. New York: Sterling. pp. 58–9. ISBN 978-1-4027-5391-6.
  5. ^ a b Delbanco, Dawn (2008). "Chinese Handscrolls". In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Retrieved 24 September 2011.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ "Chinese Scrolls". The Art Institute of Chicago. Retrieved 25 September 2011.

External links[edit]