Magic Mirror With Hidden Image Discovered At Cincinnati Museum

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Magic Mirror With Hidden Image Discovered At Cincinnati Museum

A seemingly unobtrusive 15th and 16th century Chinese copper mirror in the storage of the East Asian art collection at the Cincinnati Art Museum.Part of a vast collection of hundreds of thousands of other artifacts, this is a very rare magic mirror, and it is reported that the Buddha statue is covered with mysterious beams. CNN..

Magic Mirrors and Lighting: Japan and China

The Buddha sits in his typical meditative pose, during which a ray of light is emitted from him. Also, on the back side, there is a 6-character Namu Amida Butsu, which represents Amida Nyora, an important figure in East Asian Buddhism.

The magic mirror, which was last exhibited in 2017, was previously stored on the shelves in the back room for decades. The magic mirror is an ancient Chinese art form dating back to the Han dynasty (202 BC-220 AD). They are transparent or light-transmitting mirrors, and according to the museum, “… when light is projected onto them, the mirrors appear transparent, revealing letters or decorative designs.”

Dr. Homei Son, the museum’s East Asian art curator, is responsible for revealing this beautiful historical relic.She saw a mysterious similarity to the mirrors of the Edo period in Japan, which are reported to have smaller and more complex Kanji typefaces than those held at museums in Tokyo, Shanghai and New York City. Artnet news ..

Homei Son, an East Asian art curator at the Cincinnati Art Museum, is next to a Buddhist bronze mirror. (Rob Deslongchamps / Cincinnati Art Museum ).

This allowed her to visit the museum’s warehouse last spring and look at the mirrors that have been part of the museum’s collection for over 50 years. A conservation expert accompanied her to perform her due diligence. “I asked her to shed a strongly focused light on her mirror,” Dr. Son said in a video call from Cincinnati. CNN.. “So she used her cell phone (her flashlight) and it worked.” Later, the mirror experimented with a powerful, focused light that revealed the statue of the Buddha. Taken to do.

According to Dr. Son, the Cincinnati Art Museum is now part of a small number of institutions in the world that own this type of magic mirror. Only two others own unusual Buddhist themes, including the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Tokyo National Museum. However, both are from the Edo period in Japan and may not be as old as the newly discovered Chinese counterpart.

“This is a national treasure of China and we are very fortunate to be able to rediscover this rare object and display it in Cincinnati,” said Son.

“I know Asian art scholars travel to Cincinnati to see it, and I’m excited that they can learn more about our collection while they’re here.” She said. She hopes that this current discovery “inspires visitors to learn more about our many rare Asian works of art in our collection.”

    The mirror shown here (there are six Chinese characters on the back left and front right) may have been hung in a temple or noble home dating back to the 15th or 16th century.  (Rob Deslongchamps / Cincinnati Art Museum)

The mirror shown here (there are six Chinese characters on the back left and front right) may have been hung in a temple or noble home dating back to the 15th or 16th century. (Rob Deslongchamps / Cincinnati Art Museum ).

The art of making reflectors

The art of reflective bronze production is not limited to China, but they are one of the first cultures to complete it. They were found from ancient Egypt to the Indus Valley. Japan will also develop and enhance this technology during the Edo period (1603-1868). The mysterious reflection technique was created by casting images, words, and patterns on one side. Then scratch and scrape the flat surface on the other side, then polish to make a “normal” mirror.

“However, when the mirror is exposed to bright sunlight, the reflective surface” can be seen through “, so you can examine the letters and patterns written on the back surface from the reflection reflected on the dark wall. For some reason, mysteriously, the plain bronze becomes transparent, leading to the object’s Chinese name, “light-transmitting mirror.” ” UNESCO paper.

When sunlight hits the reflective surface in a particular way, the hidden image usually matches the design on the back. This creates the illusion that the light has passed directly through the mirror. In the case of the current discovery, a second metal plate was added to the back, allowing the original Buddha to be hidden inside. Overall, the mirror was 8.5 inches (22 cm) in diameter and was probably used as a religious ornament in temples and elite homes.

The reflected Buddha can be identified by this detail of the reflection.  (Rob Deslongchamps / Cincinnati Art Museum)

The reflected Buddha can be identified by this detail of the reflection. (Rob Deslongchamps / Cincinnati Art Museum ).

“No matter how theoretically it can be explained, it all depends on the masters who polish very difficult surfaces, which is why they are so rare,” experts still understand how metals are. Dr. Son, who confesses that he hasn’t, explained that the most exciting part is that many museums believe that such mirrors are pushed somewhere, but they haven’t noticed much yet, so much on this topic. The possibilities of historical research are open.

Image above: Demonstration of a Buddhist bronze mirror reflecting images at the Cincinnati Art Museum. Source: Rob Deslongchamps / Cincinnati Art Museum

By Sahir Pandy

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