Mirror, "Animal cycle type" (Ssu-ling shih-er hsiao: 4 spirits and 12 zodiacs)Artist(s)ChineseArtist NationalityChinese (culture or style)Object Creation Date7th centuryMedium & Supportcast bronze with malachite and azurite patinaDimensions
7 3/16 in. x 7 3/16 in. x 9/16 in. ( 18.3 cm x 18.3 cm x 1.4 cm )Credit LineThe Oliver J. Todd Memorial CollectionLabel copy
China has had mirrors since the late second millennium BCE. Traditional Chinese mirrors were in the form of bronze disks with a polished reflecting surface and relief decorations cast on the back, as seen in these four examples from a wide range of dynastic periods. A braided silk cord was passed through the knob at the center of the back that was used as a “handle” for the mirror. Variations in surface color or patina of these mirrors—from silvery to green to black – result from different ratios of copper and tin (the components of bronze) and burial conditions, as mirrors were personal accessories that customarily accompanied the deceased to the afterlife.
Ideas or motifs from Daoism and fengsui philosophy sometimes appear on mirror backs as embellishments. The inner decorative field of the seventh-century mirror is decorated with the “Four Spirits,” animals that represent the four points of the compass: the blue dragon of the east; the red bird of the south; the white tiger of the west, and the “dark warrior” (a snake or tortoise) of the north. On the outer field are the twelve familiar animals of the Chinese zodiac.
(Label for UMMA Chinese Gallery Opening Rotation, March 2009)Subject matter
bronze mirror decorated with mystical animals (marking cardinal orientations) around the knob in the center, which are in turn surrounded by a band of twelve zodiac animals marking temporal orientation.Physical Description
Bronze mirror with one side polished flat, and the other side decorated with mystical animals for cardinal orientation and twelve zodiac animals.Primary Object Classification Metalwork Primary Object TypemirrorAdditional Object Classification(s)Decorative ArtsCollection AreaAsianRights
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