Cincinnati Museum of Art Discovers Rare 16th-Century Mirror Reveals Hidden Image When Illuminated

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The history of art

#light #mirrors #religion

July 14, 2022

Grace Ebert

Buddhist bronze mirror, 15th-16th century, China or Japan, bronze, Source unknown, Cincinnati Art Museum, x 1961.2. All photos by Rob Deslongchamps, courtesy of the Cincinnati Art Museum, shared with permission

Before the ubiquity of glass mirrors we use today, people would often look at polished bronze for a low-fi glimpse of their reflection. These objects often featured symbols or three-dimensional renderings molded into the side opposite the convex reflective surface, but another particularly clever subset also contained an added dimension of mystery.

By sealing the archives at Cincinnati Museum of Art, curator Hou-mei Sung discovered what appeared to be an ordinary weathered mirror imprinted with the name of Amitābha Buddha. Upon closer inspection, however, she realized that the small bronze piece would reveal a hidden image of the spirit figure enshrined in the rays when illuminated.

Nicknamed a “magic mirror“, the extremely rare work is part of a small collection of light-penetrating objects that date back to the Han dynasty (202 BCE to 220 CE) – only a few similar Buddhist pieces from China and Japan exist and are currently housed in the Shanghai Museum, the Tokyo National Museum, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Sung’s discovery is presumed to be the oldest discovery, and although it is still unclear exactly how the ancient craftsmen created the pieces, it was probably a religious decoration hung in a temple or in the house of a wealthy family.

If you’re in Cincinnati, you’ll be able to see the mirror and its secret image starting July 23.

#light #mirrors #religion

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