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The Art of Identification

All Sealed Up
Wang Ch’ien<br>Chinese, active 1435-90<br><i>White Prunus</i>, 1454<br>Ink on paper<br>Minneapolis Institute of Arts<br>The John R. Van Derlip Fund
  Wang Ch’ien
Chinese, active 1435-90
White Prunus, 1454
Ink on paper
Minneapolis Institute of Arts
The John R. Van Derlip Fund


Red designs like the small squares on this picture of plum blossoms are often seen on Chinese paintings. They are seals belonging to the artist and to collectors and important viewers of the artwork. The seal’s design (usually a person’s name) was carved into a piece of some hard material like stone or ivory to make a stamp that could be used over and over. The carved stamp was then covered with red ink and pressed onto the painting. Artists were careful to place the seal where it would look good in the composition.

Some famous Chinese paintings are almost covered in seals. Seals added by collectors and distinguished admirers are considered a mark of honor and add value to the art. Like the artist, these people took great care in the placement of their seals. The seals also help art historians trace the ownership of important paintings.

The plum branch in Wang Ch’ien's painting wraps around a poem about friendship. The three seals near the corners of the poem are the artist’s. At the painting’s lower left, the personal seal of the scholar and collector P’ang Yüan-chi states, “Examined and approved by Hsu-chai.” The two seals at the lower right are the artist’s and another of P’ang Yüan-chi’s, “Approved and collected by Lai-ch’en, a genuine work.”

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1. This is one of four different seals that the artist Wang Ch’ien stamped on his painting.
2. You can still see red ink on this seal stamp.
Liu Ching K’o, Taoist seal, 960-1279, brown glazed stoneware with engraved characters, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, gift of Ruth and Bruce Dayton
3. This seal belonged to the painting’s owner, P’ang Yüan-chi.


November 2009