Personal ethics and aesthetics

Seals - identity and expression

Seals are one of the distinguishing objects of literati life, used both in correspondence and by artists and collectors. Historically, they originate – like seals everywhere - from the need for authorizing, verifying or securing documents. Over time they were increasingly associated with personal expression and taste. While many owners commissioned craftsmen to carve their seals, by the Ming period (1368-1644) artists increasingly began to carve their own, giving seals more of the flavour of an autograph.

The inscribed words on a seal were inevitably considered from a literary and cultural perspective, while the style of the carving was a matter of expressive care, a minor current in the great river of calligraphy.

To the extent that such things were collectables and part of a gentleman's set of objets de vertu, they were often made of valuable stone. The top and side of the seal might also be carved in a decorative manner, highlighting the specific character of the stone in respect to veins and colours.
 Modern seal, wood
Collection of CHANG Tsong-zung