WHAT THIS GALLERY IS ABOUT
The art of Chinese seal carving is probably one of – if not the – oldest form of artistic expression in China having its origin in the early Shang Dynasty when oracle bone inscriptions – mainly applied to tortoise shells – were a means of predicting the future and a divination instrument. The same – still simplified and very basic carving where then also applied to what we can consider early age seal stones – then soon also made of bronze.
From these early beginnings the role of the seal still developed further by them becoming not only as a means of authorization through signature via the chop impression but also as a symbol of authority – mainly for government or military officials or to display social privilege and status The seal impressions on Chinese paintings and calligraphy as we know them today only developed at a later stage.
An interesting fact that seems to often get forgotten when it comes to the history of Chinese brush painting and calligraphy is that in the beginning it was not the artists which signed off their artworks by application of a seal but it is the collectors and owners of these artworks that first added their personal chops to them to mark their ownership. Since many famous artworks in China passed through the hands of many owners – each leaving a trace on the painting or calligraphy artwork through the impression of their personal chop, the original composition of many of these artworks has suffered.
On the other hand, one can argue that it is because of these seals, the history and ownership of many artworks can be traced giving us an opportunity to learn more about the role of painting and calligraphy over the course of many centuries.
At times, bearing the chop of a high government official, a famous art collector or even the emperor of China contributed immensely to the the perceived value of an artwork and thus the prestige and fame of the artist; in a way not too different from today’s world where being exhibited in a famous gallery or mentioned by a famous curator is a kind of “knight ship” for many artists.
Since the art of seal carving has such a long history not only different carving scripts evolved – the most famous one being Zhuan Shu, the Seal script, Li Shu and Kai Shu, but a lot of carvings of symbols and patterns have been created. Some of them – revered for their artistic beauty in terms of perfectly arranging the carving on the limited space of a seal stone base – where then often imitated, copied or used for inspiration and often found their way to seal carving collections or seal carving dictionaries.
We created the gallery section of carving patterns to give you an idea what types of carvings are possible, where are the limitations in terms of detail and what the typical historical and traditional Chinese seal carving patterns are. If on the other hand you would like to see what a Chinese seal stone that is finally carved looks like, please take a look in our gallery section of carved seals.