Mirror; back decorated with birds and scrolling vines
Tang dynasty (618-906)
Bronze, inlaid with mother-of-pearl in lacquer
D: 175 cm
Gift of Frederick M. Mayer, New York, through America-Israel Cultural Foundation
Accession number: B62.01.1092
Throughout Chinese history, mirrors were imbued with magical significance in addition to their practical use. A reflecting surface was thought to ward off evil spirits; the bride carried a mirror on the way to her wedding; and a person who had seen a demon could be cured by looking in a mirror. Cosmic symbols often formed the decoration on the backs of mirrors.
During the Tang Dynasty, court ladies carried small mirrors suspended from their belts. Large mirrors on stands were used for grooming, as seen in paintings of the period. Decoration on the mirrors often shows the influence of Persian Sassanian art, such as the grape or lion motif, very much in vogue in eighth-century cosmopolitan China. This mirror, with a raised edge and mother-of-pearl inlay in lacquer, is extremely rare. A few mirrors of this type are preserved in the Shoso-in Treasure House of the Todaji Temple in Nara, Japan, where they have been kept since the Tang Dynasty period.