An Online Exhibition by the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz - Max-Planck-Institut
The seal, with its nine thousand year history, ranks among the oldest forms of graphic reproductive media and represents a highly complex cultural phenomenon from a range of perspectives – social, historical, legal, and visual. The online exhibition concentrates on seals dating from the 12th - 16th centuries, primarily, on seal matrices of bronze and seal impressions in wax. The seal matrix is engraved with distinctive signs of the seal’s owner, which can then be reproduced through the imprint in an initially flexible, then later hardened material, in a potentially endless number of impressions. Seal impressions mark commercial goods and holy relics, and can seal letters or be fastened to documents by a lace. Secular and religious dignitaries, individuals and corporations, all represented themselves across the centuries within a persistent set of images types on seals. Thus developed, the canon of visual motifs and forms is not only marked by important continuities, but also by innovations with important implications for other artistic genres. The exhibition presents both seal matrices and seal impressions preserved in two of the most important Italian collections of seals: the Museo Nazionale del Bargello, whose collection of seal matrices was the subject of a specific photo campaign by the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz, and the Archivio di Stato di Firenze, which has kindly made images of its seal impressions available for online display.