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Home > Display > Gallery of Chinese Seals
Gallery of Chinese Seals
This is the first gallery specifically designed for displaying Chinese seals in the world. By using many advanced techniques, specimens are displayed in showcases with different levels and heights in coordination with supplementary exhibition. In a space of 380 square meters, more than 500 masterpieces between the Western Zhou and the Qing dynasty are selected from the collection over ten thousand pieces in Shanghai Museum. The display fully illustrates a long history of Chinese seals and diversified styles in different historical periods.
Seals in ancient China
Seals appeared during the Shang and Zhou dynasties. The function of ancient seals might have been related with official workmanship and inscription. During the periods of the Spring and Autumn and the Warring States, both official and private seals greatly developed and their calligraphic and engraving styles became highly diversified. Seal knobs and inscriptions differed geographically. For example, so-called "writings of Six States" refers to the difference of seal inscription.
Standardization and continuation during the Qin and Han dynasties
The decree called "unifying the writing" was promulgated during the Qin dynasty, which demanded that all seal inscriptions and knob styles be unified. Rigorous rules and regulations of using raw materials and styles were formulated according to various official ranks. "Mou Zhuan" became the exclusive style for seals. The official seal system was matured during the Qin and Han dynasties and lasted for eight hundred years. Seal production reached its climax during this period. Rigid formats were set up for official and private seals in order to reveal characteristics of steadiness and harmony.
New styles of both official and private seals during the Tang, Song, Jin and Yuan dynasties
The transformation from clay stamp to affixed seal was completed during the Sui dynasty. The Tang dynasty followed the seal system from the Sui dynasty and started forming a new system of official seals. The calligraphic inscription of Kaishu used for both official and private seals appeared during the Tang and Song dynasties. Signature became popular during the Song dynasty, which enriched expressive patterns of seals. During the periods of the Liao, Xixia, Jin and Yuan dynasties,various ethnic writings were used for seal-carving but they still imitated the style of Chinese seals.
The emergence and flourishing of scholar seals during the Ming and Qing dynasties
Scholar seals appeared in the Ming dynasty. During this period, seals were flourishing together with the development of calligraphy and painting. This initiated a new era of seal-carving arts, which lasted almost for five hundred years during the Ming and Qing dynasties. After the mid-Ming, expression of emotion and feeling by using seal arts became very popular among scholars and led to the appearance of new seal-carving skills and aesthetic designs. During the late Ming, different schools emerged, such as Wumeng School represented by Wen Peng, Anhui School by He Zhen and Loudong School by Wang Guang. Scholar seal arts entered its golden age during the mid-Qing. Studies of bronze and stones provided traditional seal-carving arts with fresh ideas, leading to the emergence of Zhejiang and Deng Shiru Schools.
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