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Bronze Mirror with Bird Décor

Diameter 9.4 cm. (3 3/4 in.)

Tang dynasty 唐
First half 8th century

Provenance: Japan

The small mirror is crisply cast with a central boss surrounded by four sparrows in flight alternating with bees hovering over clover within a sharply cast double-line border. Six additional sparrows fly around the outer register divided by winged insects among leafy foliage, all enclosed by a border of attenuated trefoils on a raised rim.

The décor of this charming mirror departs from the profoundly symbolic mirrors of former times. Here one feels in the presence of decoration for its own sake. A number of related mirrors with sparrow décor are known—circular, lobed, and foliate—one from a Tang tomb dated to A.D.714, excavated in Xi’an, Shaanxi province.1 Another important related mirror with sparrow décor is among the treasures of the Shōsō-in
in Nara dedicated to the Emperor Shōmu in the year A.D.756.2

The spirit of the Tang era is captured by contemporaneous paintings of court ladies strolling in luxuriant gardens and captured also in the captivating décor of mirrors into which they are sometimes pictured leisurely gazing. Such a mirror as the present would have been most appropriate, given its small size, for a youthful female, still in the spring of her life.

1. See Gong Xianxing and Liu Yiman, Zhongguo gu tongjing, Beijing, 1994, pl. 44.2, p. 110.

2. See Metal Works in the Shōsō-in, Tokyo, 1976, pl. 56 (south section).

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