Date: 20th century
Medium: Shoushan soapstone (duchengkeng)
Dimensions: Each: H. 2 9/16 in. (6.5 cm); W. 13/16 in. (2.1 cm); D. 13/16 in. ( 2.1 cm)
Credit Line: Seymour Fund, 2007
Accession Number: 2007.52a, b
Seal carving became an important branch of Chinese literati art during the late sixteenth century, when artists began using soft stones, or soapstones, for the craft. A variety of soapstones, particularly those from Fujian and Zhejiang provinces on China's southeastern coast, quickly became the preferred material, chosen for their fine texture, attractive colors, subtle luster, sensuous feel, and jadelike translucence. These stones have since been held in the highest esteem by artists and collectors alike. As the extensive exploitation in the last few centuries has practically exhausted their sources, they are now in extremely limited supply.
This pair of seals, each a square prism with a gently curving top, are made of duchengkang stone, which is named after the site of its occurrence in Fujian Province and celebrated for its mellow amber color and fine grain. On their smoothly polished surface, clouds and rocks, common decorative motifs on the sides of seals, are skillfully and fluidly carved in low relief.