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Chinese Seals

Seals were designed to be distinctive from others, reflecting the individuals character by the pressure exerted during engraving. Deft, buoyant strokes indicate a self assured personality, whereas careful and neat strokes reflect a sober personality in the engraver. Seals can be carved on a variety of surfaces, from Jade, bone, metal, animal teeth or horns, pottery, bamboo or even fruit-pits and stones. In deciding what material to use, the surface must be checked to be sure it is slippery and smooth, and cool unless handled. Favoured stones included the Qingtian stone, Tianhuang stones, the Balin stone and the Jixue shi, or 'chicken's blood stone'. What is important in the selection is a flexibility when the material is cut.
Seals have a deep tradition in China, throughout the deep cultural roots of calligraphy and engraving that meets in the delicate seals that are produced today. These arts have inspired generations to study, appreciate and collect different seals. The tradition of seals stems from a desire to mark your possessions to prevent theft. During the first dynasty, the king used seals to display lordly credit, both for himself and his favourites, and to empower his authority. Gradually, the local governments who succeeded him needed seals for the same reason, to display and underline their own authority. However, private seals were also carved, showing animal patterns and auspicious characters. A noted seal engraver was He Zhen from the late Ming dynasty. He was famous for the strength and vigor of his engraving, and the clarity of the curves in the seal.

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