East Asia, China,
Han Dynasty, ca. 206 BCE to 220 CE.
A bronze mirror with cast motifs and a raised, nub-like handle. The handle is pierced through laterally, allowing the mirror to be worn. The cast motifs include flowing floral motifs and abstract long-tailed birds – probably phoenixes. A border of zigzagging lines encircles the interior motifs, and the rim has a thick, raised lip. The copper alloy contains a great deal of tin, giving the surface a silvery appearance.
Diameter: 5.8 Inches
Bronze mirrors have a long history in China – the oldest known comes from a tomb dated to ca. 2100 to 1600 BCE. By the Han Dynasty, mirrors like this one were immensely popular, and were produced in workshops at various regional centers in order to keep up with the demand from members of the royal court, court officials, and regional government workers. Mirrors like this one were expensive, and only owned by elites in the society. The cast inscription around the body of this one dates it to ca. 200 BCE and the Western Han period. It is meant to bring good fortune to the living and, when placed in a grave, to keep evil spirits away from the dead. A mirror like this one would have been used both for utilitarian purposes – starting fires and seeing one’s reflection – and for spiritual defense to see invisible spirits. The presence of the phoenix in the animal design may mean that this was a mirror given to a bride and later hung on the marriage bed, as the phoenix was a good omen for marriages and fertility.
Provenance: ex-Wong collection, Lotus Trading, acquired around 1974