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In Chinese culture, the stamp of a seal (chop) established credibility. From the Eastern Chou period (c. 770 B.C.-221 B.C.) till today, emperors to commoners have used seals to certify authenticity. The seal has been a mainstay in the lives of the Chinese people.

The majority of the seals featured in this special exhibition are from the Ch'ing court's imperial collection. For the purpose of this exhibition, the seals have been organized into three categories: "For the Emperor's Imperial Use," "For the Emperor's Appreciation," and "For the Emperor's Collection." While seals had different uses, together they give us a glimpse into the artistic tastes and styles of the Ch'ing emperors (1644 A.D.-1911 A.D.).

I. For the Emperor's Imperial Use
Found when opening the emperor's storage boxes were large jade seals used for imperial orders and seals used to stamp works of calligraphy and painting in his collection. Moreover, the emperor had his seals duplicated and placed in the various halls of his palace so that he could retrieve them at will. The Ch'ing emperor Ch'ien-lung is known for "adding" his own artistic touch by stamping his seal onto most of the works in his collection

II. For the Emperor's Appreciation
Aside from "imperial use," the emperor also used seals for his enjoyment. The emperor combined his love of writing poems and collecting in the commission of the "Yüan-chin-yün" seals (including album of impressions). In this collection are nine finely carved t'ien-huang stone seals in the shape of mythical beasts. Each of the nine seals has a different engraving of a poem in which the characters are repeated but cleverly repositioned throughout the various lines. Carved in nine different versions of seal script, the characters also reveal the reverence emperors held for the ancient past.

Emperor Ch'ien-lung commissioned the engraving of the poems on the seals in the "Pao-chang chi-hsi" seal collection (including album of impressions), which contain the character "hsi" (happiness). The "Four Aspects of the Seal to be Appreciated" (the stone, carved decorations/animal knobs, legend engraving and content of seal inscription) of the "Pao-chang chi-hsi" seal collection are particularly beautiful, but the collection was especially cherished because its borders are decorated with bats ("fu," or "bat," is a homophone for the word "luck") and the character "hsi" in red.

III. For the Emperor's Collection
The collector's seal also indicated his love for antiquity. The Ch'ing emperors not only collected items such as ancient bronze and jade seals from the Han to Wei dynasties (206 B.C.-280 A.D.) but also began to collect late Ming dynasty seals (1368-1644) and various types of early Ch'ing seals. The Yü-ch'ing Palace held a collection of a hundred copper seals; some had been for the private use of Warring States period and Han dynasty officials; some seals were engraved with imperial admonitions and animals. As shapes of and carvings upon the seal itself diversified, the characters became more unique, becoming even more so a model for the study of seal script.

In the seal collection of the Ch'ing emperors were seals with legends of "Ai-lien-shuo" and the "Ming-chuan chien-chen lou shih-ming," with characters collected from the engraved calligraphy of the Ming master Wen P'eng. Famous master carvers Wen P'eng and Ho Chen established the practice of seal carving in the seal script style among Ming and Ch'ing dynasty scholars. While the inscriptions mentioned above are considered extremely elegant and dynamic, the side inscriptions and the lines are very different from the so-called "Wen-p'eng" carving style that had been passed down to successive generations of stone carvers, resulting in questions about authenticity. Though the seal inscriptions may not be originals, the then trend to imitate antiquity as well as the Ch'ing emperor's tastes in seal collecting are apparent.

Author: Yu, Kuo-ching