Chinese Seals

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Chinese seal carving was one of the four traditional arts of ancient China, along with painting, calligraphy, and poetry. Seal carving was an art of deep cultural roots of the Chinese generations. The first record of a seal in China was from 544 BC, during the Spring and Autumn period; right after Chinese ancestors could make potteries and owned properties. When the first dynasty was established, the emperor began to use seals. These seals were created for the purpose of making marks on people’s own possessions to avoid mix up and prevent theft. The quantity of the seals increased over time.
Until the end of Warring States period, from 403-221 BCE, there was only one way of calling seals. The name xi was used for seals which are both official and private, regardless of the material and their uses. Empress Wu from the Tang dynasty issued an order to change the name of xi into bao, which meant treasure. Her reason of doing so was because xi was close in sound to si, which was death in Chinese. When Emperor Zhongzong resumed the throne, he changed it back to xi. As a result, the two words were changed back and forth depending on the period. Today, people used chops and stamps as the other names of seals.

The different varieties of seals

The Ming dynasty, which lasted from 1368-1644, and the Qing dynasty, from 1644-1911, were the period of time when feudal arts of dynasties flourished. Artists began to stamp the seals on a high quality paper named “xuan”, which was used for paintings. Sculptors also started to invent various types of carvings to decorate the seals. Elaborate carvings were used to decorate the sides and also the top of the seal. They were usually made of stone, jade, or even ivory. The red ink for the stamps was made of cinnabar in water and honey or some kind of oil, held ready to be used on a pad of cotton.

Seal carving was associated with...
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