Asian Antiques Appraisals And Valuations

Chinese Seals: A Historical and Cultural Treasure

Chinese seals have a rich and captivating history that spans over 3,000 years. They first emerged during the Warring States period (475-221 BC) as a means for nobles to distinguish themselves, and were initially crafted from jade with the owner’s name and title engraved on them.

As dynasties came and went, the usage of seals evolved accordingly. The Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC) saw the emergence of the first emperor’s imperial seal, carved from beautiful white jade and known as the “Xi,” which was exclusively used by those in power. Later emperors had their own imperial seals, but the number of seals used varied depending on the dynasty and ruler.

Seals became symbols of status and rank during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD) and their designs grew more elaborate, featuring landscapes, figures, birds, and flowers. Many artists began to carve their own seals to sign their work, turning seal carving into a popular art form. The Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD) saw the rise of the personal seal, used by artists to sign their work and claim ownership. This practice became widespread during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), and it is still in use today.

Seals are made from various materials such as stone, wood, bamboo, bone, or ceramic, and are engraved with different designs. The engravings on the seal face can follow several calligraphy styles, and master engravers work hard to develop these styles. Seals can be carved using one of two techniques: either by carving the material away from the character, leaving a red ink outline when used on paper, or by carving the character into the material, leaving the character in white amidst a red background.

Seals are still used in China today to mark important documents, often accompanied by a hand signature for added security. Personalized seals are also used to mark Chinese calligraphy works and paintings. In the business world, seals are used to prove the reliability of a business and demonstrate adherence to its identity.

Seal carving is a traditional Chinese art that is still widely practiced today. It has been recognized as a national intangible cultural heritage in China since 2006. Throughout Chinese history, many famous seal carvers such as Wu Changshuo, Qi Baishi, and Wu Hufan have emerged.

Seal stones were important tools for scholars, who owned several different seals that were kept in a wooden box along with a small porcelain or lacquer seal paste container. The seal stones were made from a variety of hard substances, including jade, soapstone, glass, bronze, porcelain, and various types of hard and soft stones. Some seal stones were plain, oblong blocks with no decoration, while others featured designs.

The art of seal cutting reached new heights in the 18th century, with calligraphic “schools” being founded. Today, master craftsmen might also include a finely incised colophon and signature as part of the decoration on their seals. Seal imprints come in two types – in relief and incised. In the former, the characters are carved in relief, with the background removed. When incised, the imprint is in reverse.

Seal chops were not only carved with signatures or the name of the owner, but also with place names, commemorative dates, family mottos, or wise sayings. The Chinese emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties owned a wide variety of seals, many of them commemorative. Imperial seals made from nephrite could be large and very heavy, and were often used as a symbol of the emperor’s power and authority. They were highly prized possessions and carefully guarded, as they represented the emperor’s right to rule and were used to authenticate official documents and transactions.

Seals made from precious materials, such as jade and nephrite, are especially desirable to collectors.

Given its cultural significance, seal carving has been designated as a national intangible cultural heritage in China since 2006. This recognition guarantees that the art form will continue to be handed down to future generations and that its traditions and techniques will be preserved.


Chinese Antique Valuations And Appraisals

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