Chinese Seals
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Ancient Chinese Seals - Page 1

Chinese seals, as a distinctive form of national art including the ancient 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 (ca. 16th-771 BC). They were first used as an official validation of authority power by high-rank officials and later widely as a signature by private persons due to the changes of social structures. 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 seal carvings.

seal script
seal script
seal script
seal script
Regular script

seal script
This kind of seal script with an irregular and complicated structure was mainly used in the Warring States period(475 -221BC).Chinese Seals This script with neither too round nor too square characters was commonly used for the Qin and some Han seals (221BC-AD220).Chinese Chops As a major script for the Han seals, the Mou script modified characters with more curved strokes on the base of the Xiao seal script.Chinese Chops It is a kind of modification of seal script, which made characters in form of a bird, fish or insect.

Chinese Seals
This seal script was sometime used for private Chops of the Wei and Jin dynasties (220-420) with vertical strokes ended pointedly like a needle.Chinese Seals It is seldom seen in Han (206 BC~ AD 24) and Jin (265-420)Chops, but often in Song (960-1279) and Yuan (1271-1368) private Chops.Chinese Seals It first appeared in the Sui and Tang official Chops (581-907), and was continuously used for the Jin, Yuan, Ming and Qing (1115-1911) seals.Chinese Seals
Special terms for seals

Xi:   It is one of the Chinese names for seals, referring to both official and private seals before the Qin dynasty (221 BC), but only to emperors', empresses' and princes' seals after Qin. Other officials' seals were called Yin then. Empresses' seals were also called Bao in and after the Tang dynasty (618-907).

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 posts. 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 characters are mostly carved in Jiudie seal script with multiple and parallel strokes. Furthermore, seal knobs also vary with ages.

Private seal:  In ancient times, private seals were taken as a kind of erupt of a 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, a zodiac animal, an idiom and a collection appraisal mark.

Red legend and white legend:  Seal characters carved in relief are called the red or positive legend as they are in red when being stamped on paper; otherwise they are called the white or negative legend. The seal shown at the bottom corner on the right of this page is a good example with two legends on one seal. The character on the right is the white legend and the one on the left is the red.

Design seal:  Seals 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 (475 BC—AD 420).

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

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

Seal inscription:  In addition to the seal characters, some seals also have inscriptions on the top and sides. The Sui, Tang, Song and Yuan (581-1368) seal inscriptions usually give the date and content explanation. And the Ming and Qing (1368-1911) ones have more contents as an art component of the seals.

Clay seal:  It is a piece of clay pressed with certain patterns or characters and fixed across an opening of a packet or envelope. During the period from Warring States period to Jin dynasty (475 BC—AD 420), the formal and official writings written on bamboo and wooden strips were tied up by a rope and sealed with a piece of pressed clay across the opening. But this system gradually declined in the Southern and Northern (Eastern Han dynasty 25-220)

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Text and spelling from the Shanghai Museum, Thank you.
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