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Ancient Chinese Seal

        Chinese seals, as a distinctive form of national art including seals and literati’s seal carving, developed from very ancient time. Originated from the designed mould stamps, bronze seals appeared in an embryonic form in the period of Shang and Zhou dynasties. They were first used as an official validation of authority power by high –rank. Since 16th century, the literati of the Ming dynasty combined the art of painting and writing with the art of seal carving, bringing forward the very ingenious and scholarly flavored styles of literati and seal carving.


 Special terms for seals

1. Xi

        It is one of the Chinese names for seals, referring to both official and private seals before the Qin dynasty, but only to emperor’s and princes’ seal after Qin. Other official’s seal were called Yin then. Empresses’ seals were also called Bao in and after the Tang dynasty.



2. Official seal

        In ancient China, official seals, as a kind of certificate, were offered to the officials at the time when they were appointed to the post. So, their seals vary in size, material and shape with their posts. Different ages have different styles. The Qin and Han seal characters were made by carving or casting; the Sui and Tang characters were carved in low relief; the Song seals have date marks; and the Jin, Yuan,Ming and Qing seal character are mostly carved in Jiudie seal script with multiple and parallel strokes. Furthermore, seal knobs also vary with ages. 

 3. Private seal

        In the ancient times, private seals were taken as a kind of credit of person’s identity. They could have different contents for different functions, such as seals of a person’s name, a studio name, an auspicious phrase, zodiac animals, an idiom and a collection appraisal mark.



4. Red legend and white legend

      Seal characters carved in relief are called red and positive legend as they are in red when being stamped on paper; otherwise they are called the white or negative legend.

5. Design seal

       Seal carved with a design of figures, creatures, vehicles and architectures belong to a special type of private seals. It was popularly used as auspicious wishes or design mould stamps in the Warring States period and Han and Jin dynasties.



6. Horse brand stamp

      Being a special type f ancient Chinese seals, horse brand stamp looks similar to ordinary seals but was only used to brand a horse for identification.

7. Seal knob

       Most of ancient Chinese seals have a pierced knob in the shape of a nose, an arched tile, a trapezoid, a serpent, a turtle, a camel or a horse on the top for handing and stringing. It could also be regarded as rank of official seals. Private seal knobs have more varieties.

8. Seal inscription

      In addition to the seal characters, some seals also have inscriptions on the top and sides. The Sui, Tang, Song yuan seal inscriptions usually give the date and content as an art component of the seal.

9. Clay seal

       It is a piece of clay pressed with certain pattern or characters and fixed across the opening. But this system gradually declined in the Southern and Northern dynasties.







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