Tang Octofoil Silver-Plated Bronze Mirror

SKU H.841
Circa

618 AD to 906 AD

Dimensions

5.375″ (13.7cm) high

Medium

Bronze

Origin

China

Gallery Location

S Korea


 

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 octofoil shape of this mirror is typical of the Tang Dynasty, as are the representation of two ducks and a small bird. Here, the animals are arranged around the large central boss with a drilled hole. A chord would have been wound through this hole to serve as a handle. The Mandarin duck, in Chinese art, symbolizes the strong love of a married couple while the bird may serve as an allusion to correspondences between lovers. The foliage and flowers that decorate the border reinforce the amorous symbolism. We can imagine a young lover holding this mirror, gazing at her reflection and she longingly thinks of her husband who has ventured away to an out province on a diplomatic mission or business affairs. As she primps herself, she can take solace in the imagery that decorates the back of this mirror, knowing that their love is strong, like that of the duck.

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