Chinese calligraphy / seals

Seal engraving was one of the four artistic pursuits of the literati in bygone days, the others being calligraphy, painting and poetry. The use of seals and their style have changed greatly over the course of Chinese history. In painting as in calligraphy, they are generally used in two ways.

engraved seals

The name seal – ming zhang –  authenticates a work; it represents the surname and first name of the author, his brush name or nickname, or the name of his studio. It is placed just below the calligraphed signature.

The leisure seal  – xian zhang –  represents an excerpt from a poem, a motto or a philosophical thought dear to the calligrapher.

The shape and size of seals vary. Most of the time, the upper part is expertly sculpted. The carving is done either in intaglio or in relief, most often in Small Seal script, using a stone with no impurities. Since ancient times, there has been much debate over the composition of the carving, the techniques used, aesthetic criteria and the importance of the relationship between yin and yang. There are very great artists who carve seals, and many schools of seal carving.

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Famous pieces of calligraphy also bear the name seals of successive collectors and owners, stamped many times and in different areas of the work. This routine practice may be surprising, but it marks the work’s transmission and provides a visual record of everyone who has owned the calligraphy and admired it.

The paste – yin ni – used to print the seal on the paper is made of cinnabar and linseed or canola oil, which gives it its suppleness. The cinnabar gives it its red colour, which exists in a wide range of vermilions, almost to pomegranate red.

 



The name seals for my calligraphies were created by the artist Ngan Siu-Mui. The first is red on a white background and represents the character “fang”; the second represents the characters “shu” and “ya, in white on a red background. That is the name given to me by my Chinese friends. The first syllable was chosen because it sounds close to my first name “Françoise”. The second syllable means “kind-hearted and the third could be translated “graceful”.

 


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