Exemplary of the richly variated decorative programs of later Chinese bronze mirrors, these mirrors depict animals, floral subjects, human figures, and narratives. The floral patterns are sometimes extremely dense and fine, encircling the entirety of the back of a mirror. The designers’ ingenuity is reflected in animal figures such as the lions on the mirrors with patterns of auspicious creatures and grapes, as well as human figures like Daoist immortals, Buddhist deities and the protagonists of the story of Xu You and Chao Fu. Some Ming-dynasty mirrors bear only a simple pattern of concentric circles and are distinguished by textual inscriptions of Han style. These express auspicious wishes that were intended to attract buyers.
Aside from the usual bronze mirrors, brass mirrors were also produced in ancient China. Bronze is an alloy of copper, tin, and lead; brass is one of copper and zinc. The two alloys can only sometimes be distinguished by microscopic examination. If a mirror contains a high concentration of tin, it turns into a silvery white colour after casting and can produce a very clear specular reflection. Tin increases the hardness of bronze and thus the clarity and detail of its cast decoration, but also makes it brittle. A high concentration of lead makes a mirror more tensile and resistant to cracking, but reduces the clarity of its reflection and decorative patterns. On the whole, the lots on offer have a high concentration of tin, as indicated by the clarity and detail of their decorative patterns. These include in particular the few Tang-dynasty bronze mirrors. Their reflective surfaces would have appeared in a silvery white tone at the time of casting, although they have been subsequently corroded.
Chinese bronze mirrors come in two basic types. The first includes a handle on one end that allows the user to hold it up. The other includes a holed knob on the back that allows the user to pass a cord through it and lift it using the cord. From the Shang dynasty onwards, the latter type became predominant. The majority of the lots on offer include knobs.
After the Warring States Period, Chinese bronze mirrors were distributed throughout the Asian continent, earning the admiration of various cultures with their beautiful decoration and fine craftsmanship.
Kin Sum Sammy Li
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