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Mirror with Dragons, 11th–13th century


Credit: Anonymous gift

Bronze mirrors were essential items in the toilet sets of aristocratic ladies; they survive because of the East Asian custom of placing them in tombs. As with other luxury goods so deposited, the mirrors were meant to be used by the dead in the spirit world. Because mirrors reflect images and light, it was believed they had the power to radiate light for eternity, magically illuminating the interior of the tomb.

On this mirror, two lively dragons chasing pearls, or flaming jewels, decorate the primary field around a central lotus petal medallion. In the East, dragons are connected with water, rain, and thunder, and thus symbolize the spring season and fertility. The significance of the pearl or jewel is not known. The reverse side, which is perfectly flat and smooth, would have been highly polished, forming an excellent reflecting surface. The boss in the center has a transverse opening for the loop of a braided silk tassel that served as the mirror’s handle, while the mirror was supported by a lacquered wood stand.



(N.V Hammer, Inc., New York);

acquired by Kimbell Art Foundation, Fort Worth, 1973, gift of N.V. Hammer, New York.