A rare Chinese artifact was discovered in the Cincinnati Art Museum’s Ancient Art Collection in the spring of 2021.
The curator of the Museum of East Asian Art, Dr. Hou-mei Sung, was researching the collection which has been part of the museum’s collection since 1961, according to a statement from the museum.
Sung found that a “simple-looking” 16th-century bronze mirror under “special lighting” reflects the image of a Buddha “surrounded by many rays of emanating light”.
This mirror, which the museum describes as “magical”, “transparent” or “light Penetrating Mirror” (透光鏡), was originally developed in the Han Dynasty (202 BCE–220 CE), and will be on display from July 23.
When light shines on these works of art, “characters or a decorative pattern” will be reflected on a surface in front of it. The Cincinnati Museum piece has a polished surface and bears the mark 南無阿彌陀佛, or the name of Buddha Amitābha, on the back.
“It’s a national treasure for China, and we’re so lucky to have rediscovered this rare item and put it on display in Cincinnati,” Sung said.
The museum says these magic mirrors are rare because they are “extremely difficult” to create. Only two other Buddhist magic mirrors are known to exist. Both are Japanese-made from the Edo period (1603–1867); one is located at the Tokyo National Museum and the other at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Although nothing is confirmed, the Cincinnati Art Museum says their current research suggests that the mirror in their collection was made in China at an earlier date than the other two known magic mirrors.
After July 23, visitors can view the mirror on display for free in the museum’s East Asian gallery. The museum claims its collection of East Asian art began in 1881, making it one of the oldest in the country. The gallery features works of art from China, Japan and Korea.
The Cincinnati Museum of Art is located at 953 Eden Park Dr., Mount Adams. Free entry. For more information, visit cincinnatiartmusem.org.