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All Tracks and Traces--The Uses of Seals
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From their beginnings, seals were used to impress copies in negative of their contents, thereby serving as a means "proving authenticity". In early periods, they were impressed into clay and on ceramic vessels, and traces are sometimes evident of their use on bronzes and silk. However, they were mainly used to make impressions on wet clay.

After the rise of paper, seals were damped into red paste to make impressions, which can be found on a variety of works of painting and calligraphy throughout the ages in all types and manners. "To seal with a stamp" became the ultimate way for people of means to leave behind their mark on something of importance in their possession.

Painters and calligraphers often included a name seal below their signature on works as part of the tradition of "proving authenticity". They might also apply a seal at the beginning and end of a written passage or a complementary seal in the lower right to further beautify the piece, resulting in the painting and/or calligraphy fusing with the seal(s) into a single work of art.

The identities of the people behind many seal impressions on surviving works of painting and calligraphy have long been lost. There are also seals that were never applied to seal paste to make an impression. In the collection of stele rubbings and works of painting and calligraphy among such artists as Ho Shao-chi, Weng T'ung-ho, Chang Ta-ch'ien, P'u Hsin-yü, T'an Yen-k'ai, and Wang Chuang-wei, one finds fleeting remnants of these "hearts in unison with the past"--the owner of the seal took the stone, moistened it in the paste, and pressed with all his might. Like being there in the artist's studio, seals help us travel together through time.

Ch'ing dynasty Weng T'ung-he Five-character couplet in clerical script
Weng T'ung-ho Five-character
couplet in clerical script
Ch'ing dynasty
see larger image 1
Ch'ing dynasty Weng T'ung-he Shu P'in double ended seal
Weng T'ung-ho Shu P'in double ended seal
Ch'ing dynasty
see larger image 123