Centuries-old ‘magic mirror’ found hidden in warehouse


The mirror reflecting his hidden image. (Photo: Rob Deslongchamps/Cincinnati Art Museum)

Mirror, mirror, on the wall, what’s the biggest surprise of all? For researchers from Cincinnati Museum of Artthe shock of discover a “magic mirror” in the museum’s collections was a once-in-a-lifetime find. The antique mirror is crafted from sleek bronze, gleaming to reflective perfection. For most of its more than 50 years in collections, the mirror was widely considered unexceptional. However, when a light shines on the reflective face, its subtle planes project illumination in the form of a magnificent Buddha.

In the spring of 2021, the Cincinnati Art Museum’s curator of East Asian art, Dr. Hou-mei Sung, embarked on a search for rare “magic mirrors.” The earliest examples date back to the Han dynasty of China (202 BCE-220 CE). Other examples of these extraordinary mirrors were made in the Edo period of Japan. To Dr. Sung, these examples from Edo looked like an object that had languished in the museum’s collections since its last exhibition in 2017. The Cincinnati mirror was older, dating from the 15th or 16th century. It shared a similar design with the Edo examples but was smaller and had more complex Chinese script.

In the museum’s storage room, Dr. Sung asked a conservation expert to light the mirror. The curator used her phone’s flashlight and aimed the beam at the shiny surface. On the dark wall opposite the mirror, a majestic image of the Buddha in the center of a “star” pattern appeared. “We were so excited,” said Dr. Sung said. “It’s a national treasure for China, and we’re so lucky to have rediscovered this rare item and put it on display in Cincinnati,” she added in a statement. statement. Only three other Buddhism-themed rare ones are known, including one in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

To create the mirror, artisans likely cast the desired image in raised bronze onto one side of a medallion. They then slowly smoothed the metal on the other side and polished it to a reflective shine. The varying thickness of the mirror would then subtly mimic the curvature image of the reflective side. This side was then coated with a mercury-based coating which subtly added extra definition to the image. In the case of the Cincinnati Art Museum artifact, another bronze plaque engraved with Chinese characters was added to the mirror to cover the originally cast image. The result is a reflective mirror with only the most subtle variations that, when lit, reflect a pattern.

The exact craftsmanship of the mirrors is still somewhat mysterious to scholars, but the fascination with these “transparent” mirrors (as they are called in Chinese) lives on; they are extremely rare and very beautiful. “No matter what you can theoretically explain, it all depends on the master polishing the surface, which is extremely difficult,” Dr. Sung explained. “That’s why they’re so rare.” However, she thinks other mirrors might exist, just waiting for someone to light them up.

Researchers discover a small Japanese bronze “magic mirror” in the collections of the Cincinnati Art Museum.

Reflected Masked Image

The hidden image. (Photo: Rob Deslongchamps/Cincinnati Art Museum)

The glass is subtly carved to reflect an image of the Buddha.

Mirror Edo Bronze

The face of the mirror. (Photo: Rob Deslongchamps/Cincinnati Art Museum)

The rare mirror was made in the 15th or 16th century in Japan.

Mirror Edo Bronze

The bronze back of the mirror. (Photo: Rob Deslongchamps/Cincinnati Art Museum)

h/t: [CNN]

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