The Chinese “magic mirror” discovered at the Cincinnati Art Museum

The Chinese “magic mirror” discovered at the Cincinnati Art Museum

The Curators at the Cincinnati Art Museum have figured out that an unassuming bronze disc in the museum’s 100,000-strong collection is actually an exceedingly rare magic mirror.

Magic mirrors, also known as transparent or light penetrating mirrors, were first created in China during the Han dynasty (202 BCE–220 CE), according to the museum. When light is projected on them, the mirrors appear transparent and reveal characters or a decorative design.

The characters on the museum’s polished, reflective surface carry six Chinese characters that name Amitābha Buddha, while the reflection reveals an image of the Buddha shrouded in heavenly beams. 

Aside from Han dynasty-era magic mirrors on view in the Shanghai Museum, only two other similar Buddhist magic mirrors are known, according to the museum. One is in the Tokyo National Museum and the other at the Met. Both are Japanese, Edo-period (1603–1867) objects.

According to the Cincinnati Art Museum, initial research suggests its mirror was made in China, and that it may be older than the two Japanese mirrors.

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