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Rare Chinese ‘Magic Mirror’ Artifact Rediscovered at the Cincinnati Art Museum | Cincinnati News | Cincinnati

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click to enlarge

Photo: provided by Cincinnati Art Museum

Buddhist Bronze Mirror, 15–16th century, China or Japan, bronze, Source Unknown

A rare Chinese artifact was discovered within the Cincinnati Art Museum’s ancient artwork collection in spring 2021.

click to enlarge Dr. Hou-mei Sung with the Buddhist Bronze Mirror - PHOTO: PROVIDED BY CINCINNATI ART MUSEUM

Photo: provided by Cincinnati Art Museum

Dr. Hou-mei Sung with the Buddhist Bronze Mirror

The Museum’s curator of East Asian art, Dr. Hou-mei Sung was researching the collection that has been in the museum’s collection since 1961, per a release from the museum.

Sung found that a “plain-looking” bronze mirror from the 16th century under “special lighting” reflects an image of a Buddha “surrounded by numerous emanating rays of light.”

click to enlarge Front of Buddhist Bronze Mirror - PHOTO: PROVIDED BY CINCINNATI ART MUSEUM

Photo: provided by Cincinnati Art Museum

Front of Buddhist Bronze Mirror

This mirror, which the museum says is known as a “magic,” “transparent” or “light penetrating” (透光鏡) mirror, was initially developed in the Han dynasty (202 BCE–220 CE), and will be on display starting July 23.

When light is shined on these artworks,  “characters or a decorative design” will be reflected upon a surface in front of it. The Cincinnati Museum’s piece has a polished surface and is marked with 南無阿彌陀佛, or Amitābha Buddha’s name, on the back.

“This is a national treasure for China, and we are so lucky to have rediscovered this rare object and have on view in Cincinnati,” said Sung.

click to enlarge Back of Buddhist Bronze Mirror - PHOTO: PROVIDED BY CINCINNATI ART MUSEUM

Photo: provided by Cincinnati Art Museum

Back of Buddhist Bronze Mirror

The museum says that these magic mirrors are rare as they are “extremely difficult” to create. Only two other Buddhist magic mirrors are known to be in existence. Both are Japanese made in the Edo period (1603–1867); one is located in the Tokyo National Museum and the other is at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

While nothing is confirmed, the Cincinnati Art Museum says that their current research suggests the mirror in their collection was made in China at an earlier date than the two other known magic mirrors.

After July 23, guests can see the mirror on display for free in the museum’s East Asian Gallery. The museum says its East Asian art collection began in 1881, making it one of the oldest in the country. The gallery displays art from China, Japan and Korea.

Cincinnati Art Museum is located at 953 Eden Park Dr., Mount Adams. Admission is free. Find more information at cincinnatiartmusem.org.

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