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A Double-dragon Decorated Bronze Mirror
雙龍紋青铜鏡

Diameter: 18.9 cm. (7 1/2 in.)

Tang dynasty
8th century

 

(NOTE: Further information is provided below the detailed images.)

 

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The thickly cast eight-lobed bronze mirror was fashioned with a large round knob in the center of the decorated side, perforated for a suspension cord. The undecorated side, the reflective surface, is now dulled and partially covered with patina. The single dragon that was the usual motif for such Tang and post-Tang mirrors is replaced here by a pair of dragons, the anchor of an uncompromisingly symmetrical composition while at the same time the serpents themselves provide a fluid, organic vitality to the design.

The two dragons, elegant, sleek, and exhibiting great agility, are linked at the necks where they wrap once around each other, the necks supporting their intricately detailed heads with pairs of curved horns, thick manes, and bearded jaws open to exude long stems supporting fungus heads, the auspicious form repeated in the scudding clouds of the background. The densely scaled bodies, short limbs and interlocked tails are consummately cast in high, crisp relief.

We are quite accustomed to seeing such birds as phoenixes, doves, and peacocks depicted in pairs in Tang mirror decoration. Such coupling conveys states of happiness, conviviality, marital bliss and like the present the creatures might be aligned facing each other on a vertical axis producing also a sense of nobility and majesty. Lions and deer are among the animals that also appear in multiples or in pairs. That paired dragons in Tang mirror decoration are so infrequently encountered is a bit baffling, especially given the powerful impact of the pairing. A small number have been reported from tombs in Hebei province dating to the Tang (figs. 1-3) and also to the Song (figs. 4-6) but not a significant number in comparison to the mirrors decorated with single dragons known in collections worldwide and from excavations in China. The remarkable beauty of this mirror is indeed matched by the considerable rarity of similar examples today.

 

Fig. 1: A small bronze double-dragon mirror with lion and grape design, Tang dynasty, after Bronze Mirrors from Ancient China: Donald H. Graham Jr. Collection, Hong Kong, 1994, cat. no. 78, p. 217.

 

Fig. 2: Rubbing of double-dragon bronze mirror, Tang dynasty, excavated in Dingxian, Hebei province in 1964, after Lidai tongqian wenshi, Shijiazhuang, 1996, no. 147.

 

Fig. 3: Rubbing of double-dragon bronze mirror, Tang dynasty, excavated in Yixian, Hebei province in 1960, after Lidai tongqian wenshi, Shijiazhuang, 1996, no. 148.

 

Fig. 4: Foliate bronze mirror with double-dragon design, Southern Song period, National Palace Museum, Taipei, after Reflections of the Emperor: The Collection of the Culture of Mirrors at the Qing Court, Taipei, 2015, no. I-66, p. 155.

 

Fig. 5: Bronze mirror with double-dragon design, Song dynasty, after Long de yishu (“The Art of the Dragon”), Hong Kong, 1988, pl. 56, p. 78.

 

Fig. 6: Foliate bronze mirror with double-dragon design, Song dynasty, after Long de yishu (“The Art of the Dragon”), Hong Kong, 1988, pl. 57, p. 79.

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