History of Paper-cutting Art

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Paper cutting has long become one of the best-known and finest paper art in the world. The following brief description on History of Paper-cutting Art will generalize somewhat about the history and development of this interesting art.

History of paper

Before the invention of paper, man has recorded documents about figures drawn in the caves or carved on clay tablets. In the following period, people used leather or carpentry to store their documents. Since the Chinese invented paper in 105, paper began to be widely used in China, and until the year of 750, new paper production techniques were spread to Samarkand by Chinese prisoners in a territorial dispute. Paper was brought to Europe from the 12th century through the cultural exchange between Western Christianity and Eastern Arabs as well as through Spain in the Islamic trading periods.

Paper Cutting Art

With the increasing usage of paper, paper cutting art has been developed almost during the same time. Soon it became very popular in China, especially in the Song Dynasty area (960-1279). The first artists were members serving in the dynasty court. Paper cutting has quickly spread geographically, become a folk art and used by the Chinese for purposes such as home decorations, lanterns, festival banners, etc. The patterns made from paper are also used as decoration for chairs, boxes, chests, and desks. The model for the Chinese paper cutting is mainly taken from Chinese mythology. Tissue paper (a very thin paper) and parchment are often used for this art as well.


Following the footsteps of merchants via the Silk Road, Chinese paper cutting art first came to Austria as a gift to the king in the 15th century and later was spread throughout Europe. After being “exported” to Europe, it has become a popular traditional culture, especially in Germany, Poland, Netherlands, Switzerland. The initial work is often “palm-sized” and include small landscapes and decorative floral motifs; paper cutting pattern at that time was often used in interior decoration because it was cheaper than the traditional carvings. In 16-17th century, paper cutting art began to spread substantially and its name is differentiated in each country.

In Poland, paper cutting (wycinanki) peaked between 1840 and at the start of World War I. These colorful works were in fact made with sheep shears. Even today Polish paper cutting is still made with raw sheep shears and mainly for home wall decoration. Most works have is in round or square shape. a number of common motifs can be found as the subject theme of an artwork such as roosters and hens or a fairy tale. Some artists often use colors in their designs using multiple sheets of paper glued to each other.


In Germany, paper cutting is called Scherenschnitte. This art first appeared in Germany in the 16th century and today remains a popular art in German culture. The work is often inspired by the Bible, a poem, a romance story etc…

Paper cutting art in the United States began with German immigrants in Pennsylvania, as well as others who have taken their craft to the US from Europe. Although this art has never attracted large numbers of participants in the past, recently it has seen a revival by paper cutting enthusiasts and collectors who are looking for ancient art works.The Paper cutters Guild of America (GAP – www.papercutters. org), is an association of the largest paper-cutting artists in the US with hundreds of members around the world. GAP members include from amateurs to professionals, and from the beginners to the trully experienced artists. There are even a number of participants who do not cut paper but only engage in the collection to study traditional papercutting. There is no requirement for members. Everyone is encouraged to start with the talent they have, and develop skills and their art as part of a papercutting community.



Papercutting in Mexico is called Papel Picado, or “perforated paper” and originated in ancient Mexico. The Aztecs used berries and bark to make a rough form of paper, called ‘Amatl.’ In Mexico, during the mid-1800s, people had to purchase goods from “Hacienda” (a type of form as the subsidized sales in Vietnam) and here they began to access the paper from China. In recent years, tissue paper has become the primary paper used for Papel Picado. Artisans will create 40 to 50 layers of different colored sheets of paper simultaneously and they use fierritos (looks like the skewer for kebabs), or opaque paper. When completed, the work is hung on a wire to make long banners used for weddings, religious festivals, and other special events. Designs often include nature elements like birds, flowers, and various animals. The skeleton is also used to celebrate the “Day of the Dead,” a special celebration in Mexico.

Papercutting art has become an integral part of many different cultures, including those of the Jewish faith. Traditional paper cutting of the Jews has been used for people to decorate ketubahs (Contract prenuptial agreement. It is considered part of traditional Jewish marriage, Ketubahs outlines the rights and responsibility of the groom, in relation to the bride) and holidays (Shabbat Mitzvah, and Passover, etc.); and is appreciated as works of art and hung in the homes of many Jews.


silhouette is the image of a person, animal, object or scene represented as a solid shape of a single color, usually black, its edges matching the outline of the subject. It is a form of paper cutting. The first silhouette art piece in Germany was made about 1631. For the first time, the shadow of your loved ones could be preserved. It reflects the desire to capture portraits of people using a simple paper cut.

A silhouette portrait can be painted or drawn. However, traditional methods of creating portrait silhouette are cut from black cardboard and mounted on a light background (usually white). A portrait artist will cut the traditional silhouette portrait of a person within minutes.


Japan is one of the countries mostly influenced by Chinese paper cutting art. But the Japanese have developed it into one of the national unique art and culture. The term of kirigami is commonly used for this art. In the Japanese, “kiri” means “cut” and “gami” means “paper. Typically, a kirigami work is started by folding into several parts, the artist would then unfold the paper after bearing the image of a snowflake, symmetric polygons, or the flowers… (the common is that they are symmetric through the center). Such works are called Mon-kiri.


Mon-kiri, differ from the rest of Kirigami is Kirie, Kirie (切 り 絵) is an expression of an image to be cut with scissors or a knife in black paper. Once completed they will attach the cutout on a white background to create a contrast, which gives the impression to viewers like a real painting. Kirie was originally used in Catholic ceremonies in Japan. Today, Hina Aoyamal is the most famous artists of this art form. She has published many books guiding the development of Kirie. If you are interested can find more information on amazon.jp

One thought on “History of Paper-cutting Art

  1. Lisa S Sills says:

    I am looking for information on a Mexican Priest: Father Jose Joaquim Gonzalez who was exception with this craft. He was in exile in El Panacso in the 1800s and created hundreds of religious images that were preserved and are now cut by lasers!! My workplace has several matted ones we sell in gift shop, but people often ask questions and I would like to share more about him, and these images!!

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