Today, when we think of mirrors, we think of a
thin layer of reflective metal, usually a
combination of tin and mercury, covered in a
layer of protective glass. However, the modern
mirror was an innovation of 16th Century Italian
craftsmen. Before that, since ancient time,
mirrors of highly polished bronze were used.
Bronze mirrors themselves were introduced into
China during the 6th Century B.C. They were
used not only as functional articles but as sacred
objects filled with their own powers. The custom
of placing mirrors in a tomb originated around
the 4th Century B.C. The Chinese believed that
mirrors had the ability not only to reflect, but
also to radiate light, and thus illuminate the
tomb for eternity. Often multiple mirrors were
entombed, not alongside the other funerary
objects, but close to the body of the deceased.
The backside of this silver plated bronze mirror
is decorated with a charming motif of various
wildlife creatures frolicking amongst a vineyard.
This iconography is characteristic of mirrors of
the Tang era. Specifically, the bunches of
grapes is a motif that is believed to have been
influenced by Sassanid glazed terracotta vessels
imported from central Asia. The central boss
takes the form of a recumbent beast, perhaps a
wild boar. A hole has been drilled here, as if the
creature is arching its back, and originally a
chord would have been inserted to serve as a
handle. Four lions leap around the foliage and
bunches of grapes while the outer rim is filled
with birds and dragonflies. Mirrors were
considered powerful talismanic devices through
which one could view not only their own
reflection, but also see into the spirit world.
However, despite all vanity, the beautiful relief
decorations adorning this mirror make it difficult
to look away from the back, and the real purpose
of seeing ourselves is forgotten.