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Seal of the Empress

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Period: Qing dynasty (1644-1911)
Medium: gold
Date: undated
Dimensions: height: 10 cm, height of seal knob: 6 cm, seal surface: 14 × 14cm, weight: 1800 g

Made of gold, this seal has an entwining-dragon-shaped knob and a yellow silk tassel attached to one dragon's claw. It bears characters in both Manchu and Chinese seal script (zhuan shu) reading "Seal of the empress" (Huanghou zhibao).   
  The Qing government set the format of the empress' seal and specified the details in the Collective Rituals of the Qing Dynasty (Daqing huidian):   
  A gold seal of an empress should have Chinese and Manchu characters in seal script [that imitates the carving style on jade], an entwining-dragon-shaped knob, and a flat square surface measuring four cun and four fen [about 14.6 centimeter]; thickness of one cun and two fen [about 3.9 centimeter]. Use five hundred ingots of third-quality gold. Each side of the seal case should measure eight cun [about 26.7 centimeters]. The height of the case should be seven cun and eight fen [about 26.3 centimeters]. The height of the inkpad pool should be two cun [about 6.7 centimeter], and four cun and eight fen [about 16 centimeter] on each side. Both are to be made of gold. The exterior should be decorated with phoenix designs.   
  The process of making a seal for an empress was also set down. Firstly, the Ministry of Ritual asked the emperor when it was the time to make the seal for his empress according to regulations. The Imperial Workshops drafted a picture of the seal and the legend on it, then presented it to the emperor. With the emperor's permission, the Ministry of Ritual gave the design to the seal-making workshop, in which the production was under the supervision of the officials from the Imperial Household Department and seal-making workshop. The plain seal was sent to the Storage Office to carve the characters. Before carving, the Directorate of Astronomy selected an auspicious day and requested the agreement of the Ministry of Ritual. Then, the official placed the seal in the Hall of Inner Court and held a ceremony. Finally, the artist carved according to the characters written by the Hanlin Academician. The seal was stored in the inner court until the wedding ceremony. The Ministry of Works was in charge of making the seal case and the inkpad pool.  
   The seal of the empress symbolize its owner's sovereign status and only became valid after a series of crowing rituals. It was placed in the empress' palace and certified that she was the female ruler of the inner court.

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