Cincinnati Art Museum Rediscovers ‘Magic Mirror’ Stored for Over 50 Years

Mirror, mirror on the wall – what is the rarest work of art of all? While researching an ancient work of art in the museum’s collection since 1961, the Cincinnati Art Museum’s curator of East Asian art, Dr. Hou-mei Sung, once did- unique find in spring 2021. Under special lighting conditions, a seemingly simple bronze mirror from the 16th century is reflected to reveal the image of a Buddha surrounded by many rays of light emanating from it. This “magic” mirror will be on display from Saturday for the world to see. of works of art first created in China during the Han Dynasty (202 BCE – 220 CE). When light is cast on them, the mirrors appear transparent and reveal figures or a decorative pattern. “It is a national treasure for China, and we are so fortunate to have rediscovered this rare object and put it on display in Cincinnati,” Sung said in a statement. The front of the museum’s mirror is a reflective surface polished and the back is marked with six characters, 南無阿彌陀佛, the name of Amitābha Buddha. Ancient magic mirrors are extremely difficult to make and are very rare. Besides the Han dynasty magic mirrors in the Shanghai Museum, only two other similar Buddhist magic mirrors are known: one in the Tokyo National Museum and the other in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Both are Japanese mirrors made in the Edo period (1603–1867). Early research on the Cincinnati Mirror suggests it is likely older than the other two examples and made in China. East Asian galleries include art from China, Japan, and Korea. The museum acquired its first works of East Asian art in 1881, making it one of the oldest museum collections of East Asian art in the United States.

Mirror, mirror on the wall, what is the rarest work of art of all?

While researching an ancient work of art in the museum’s collection since 1961, the Cincinnati Art Museum’s curator of East Asian art, Dr. Hou-mei Sung, made a unique discovery in the spring of 2021.

Under special lighting conditions, a seemingly simple 16th century bronze mirror reflects to reveal the image of a Buddha surrounded by many rays of light emanating from it.

This “magic” mirror will be on display from Saturday for the world to see.

The Cincinnati Museum of Art said in a statement that mirrors known as “magic”, “transparent” or “light penetrating” (透光鏡) are types of artwork that have been first created in China during the Han dynasty (202 BCE-220 CE).

When light is cast on them, the mirrors appear transparent and reveal figures or a decorative pattern.

“It is a national treasure for China, and we are so fortunate to have rediscovered this rare object and put it on display in Cincinnati,” Sung said in a statement.

The front of the museum mirror is a polished reflective surface, and the back is marked with six characters, 南無阿彌陀佛, the name of Amitābha Buddha.

Ancient magic mirrors are extremely difficult to craft and are very rare. Besides the Han dynasty magic mirrors in the Shanghai Museum, only two other similar Buddhist magic mirrors are known: one in the Tokyo National Museum and the other in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Both are Japanese mirrors made in the Edo period (1603–1867).

Initial research on the Cincinnati Mirror suggests it is likely older than the other two examples and made in China.

Visitors can view Secrets of the Mirror for free in the museum’s East Asian Gallery (Gallery 140) after Saturday.

East Asian galleries include art from China, Japan, and Korea. The museum acquired its first works of East Asian art in 1881, making it one of the oldest museum collections of East Asian art in the United States.

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