Written by Juliette Qi
Until modern times ,the seal has been a form of signature recognized in China as the hallmark of its owner. The seal is still widely used in the artistic world but also in Chinese administration. Despite its small size, the seal plays an extremely important role in the life of Chinese people.
Invented in the 2nd century BC, the seal became a personal mark and gradually an artform. The seal was originally made of metal, for example bronze, silver or sometimes even gold. Over the centuries some seals have also been produced with hard stone and ivory. Their value was also, to a certain extent, a reflection of the quality and talent of the engraver.
A Manual Artform
Traditionally, seals are engraved by hand. With the sculptural techniques, the seals perfectly combine the beauty of Chinese characters with the drawing of lines. A seal reproduces the same image of the same characters or figures whenever it is used, so it can be considered as the precursor of printing ,which is one of the Four Great Inventions together with Compass, Gunpowder and Papermaking.
In the past, the materials which were used to make the seal were generally bronze and jade, both of which are very hard. They must be slowly and carefully melted or abraded by an expert craftsman during a complicated process. Until the end of the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), the great painter Wang Mian 王冕 engraved his own seals with pyrophyllite, which is a relatively tender material. This skilled calligrapher not only brought out the beauty of his calligraphy, but also appreciated the special effect achieved by his engraving, which made this method of engraving seals very popular among the scholars of that time.
Later, a new character is added to the seal in the form of a poem on the side of the seal inspired by the artist’s feelings towards his work, or simply their name, hometown and date of engraving. Promoted by scholars over centuries, the art of seal engraving has become one of the three pillars of the fine arts, as well as calligraphy and traditional Chinese painting.
Engraving Process and the Application of Seal
The essential part of carving the seals is the engraving of the surface to be stamped. The high- degreed engraving includes the excellence of three aspects: the composition, the technique with the knife and the calligraphic technique. First, one must choose the calligraphic style and decide the disposition of the characters, which is called the “composition” of a seal. In addition, engraving characters with skillful moves is called “knife technique”. The fusion of these two elements results in an entirely new form of expression called “calligraphic technique”.
In order to seek more refinement and beauty for the design of the seal, engravers, in addition to etching the surface to stamp, sometimes also create an exquisite and elaborate sculpture on the top of the seal or carve a decoration on the sides in bas relief. They can also carve an original and amazing drawing by taking advantage of the different textures and colors of the stone in order to give more artistic value to the seal. The combination of two- or three-dimensional techniques on a seal adds more depth and a particular artistic sophistication to it.
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“A Social Enterprise in E-commerce Promoting Oriental Aesthetic Worldwide”
Aileen & Norman co-founded Interact China in 2004 with specialization in fine Oriental Aesthetic products handmade by ethnic minorities & Han Chinese. Having direct partnerships with artisans, designers, craft masters and tailors, along with 10 years solid experience in e-commerce via InteractChina.com, we position well to bridge talented artisans in the East with the rest of the world, and bring you direct finely selected products that are of good quality and aesthetic taste.
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