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Art of Chinese Seal Engraving
The official emblem of the 29th Olympic Games (Beijing, 2008) is a red seal featuring an artistically-deviated Chinese character of 京 (jing, as that in “Beijing”).
Seals were originally used as a signature or sign of authority, but with the Chinese, seal engraving has been developed into an interesting, elitist expression of traditional Chinese fine arts. A seal may be carved for practical functions, or created as a work of art, or serve both purposes.
It was an enduring fashion for an ancient Chinese scholar to have a personalized design of his own written identity. And a seal, either carved either in relief or intaglio on a small block of stone, crystal, jade, metal, ivory, wood, etc., worked that way. Designing it was to be taken seriously. He would design his own seal, or have it designed by other professionals, carefully.
The famous Chinese painting Along the River during the Qingming Festival. The scroll is dotted with seals, which was an elegant and proud move for the collectors of a certain painting or calligraphy.
Typically on a small surface of less than a square inch are filled, ingeniously and artistically, with less than a dozen characters (names, mottos, phrases, poetry verses, or even a picture). The carving style varies. Knowledge of both calligraphy and painting is involved in designing a seal, and the designer’s innovative arrangements of the characters’ strokes are the seal’s defining nature.
The Seal of the Empress, Han Dynasty.
The luckiest color for the Chinese, red is the standard color of a Chinese stamp. Often, a ancient Chinese painting is dotted by a couple of red stamps – successive collectors of this work of art have proudly put their seals on to indicate its ownership.
Seal engraving has been seen as such a precious genre of Chinese fine arts that four seal engraving masters founded a Xiling Seal Arts Society a century ago in Hangzhou. Located on the west of the Solitary Island, West Lake, the Society is worth a visit for those interested.
Gallary: Seals by Master Seal Artists