T'ang Silver-Plated Bronze Mirror - H.848
Origin: China
Circa: 618 AD to 906 AD
Dimensions: 4.625" (11.7cm) high
Collection: Chinese
Style: T'ang Dynasty
Medium: Bronze


Today, when we think of mirrors, we think of a thin layer of reflective metal, usually a combination of tin and mercury, covered in a layer of protective glass. However, the modern mirror was an innovation of 16th Century Italian craftsmen. Before that, since ancient time, mirrors of highly polished bronze were used. Bronze mirrors themselves were introduced into China during the 6th Century B.C. They were used not only as functional articles but as sacred objects filled with their own powers. The custom of placing mirrors in a tomb originated around the 4th Century B.C. The Chinese believed that mirrors had the ability not only to reflect, but also to radiate light, and thus illuminate the tomb for eternity. Often multiple mirrors were entombed, not alongside the other funerary objects, but close to the body of the deceased.

The backside of this silver plated bronze mirror is decorated with a charming motif of various wildlife creatures frolicking amongst a vineyard. This iconography is characteristic of mirrors of the T’ang era. Specifically, the bunches of grapes is a motif that is believed to have been influenced by Sassanid glazed terracotta vessels imported from central Asia. The central boss takes the form of a recumbent beast, perhaps a wild boar. A hole has been drilled here, as if the creature is arching its back, and originally a chord would have been inserted to serve as a handle. Four lions leap around the foliage and bunches of grapes while the outer rim is filled with birds and dragonflies. Mirrors were considered powerful talismanic devices through which one could view not only their own reflection, but also see into the spirit world. However, despite all vanity, the beautiful relief decorations adorning this mirror make it difficult to look away from the back, and the real purpose of seeing ourselves is forgotten. - (H.848)



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