Traditional Chinese Bronze Mirror History & Meaning

The bronze mirror had a special meaning and use for the ancients. After the death of Wei Zheng, Li Shimin, Emperor Taizong of Tang Dynasty, said, "Using copper as a mirror, one can arrange one's clothes; using history as a mirror, one can know the ups and downs of history; using others as one's own mirror, one can know one's gains and losses every day." It can be seen that the mirror is not only a cosmetic appliance, but also rose to the humanistic meaning of mirror for people.

Before the widespread use of mercury glass mirror, the ancients by adjusting the ratio of copper, tin and lead, so that the bronze mirror is a necessary tool to reflect the face of ancient Chinese people when dressing.

Traditional Chinese Bronze Mirror History & Meaning

Han Dynasty Female Terracotta

In order to prevent the bronze mirror surface from becoming blurred by air oxidation, on the one hand, mirror boxes were needed for storage and preservation, and on the other hand, the mirror needed to be wiped and polished from time to time. So the mirror table, mirror frame, mirror trousseau, mirror box and other devices came into being, mirror polisher craft also passed down for thousands of years.

These equipment can not only play a fixed mirror, storage makeup supplies, more importantly, to free women's hands, so that the mirror woman no longer need to hold a bronze mirror.

Traditional Chinese Bronze Mirror History & Meaning


Bronze mirror in Chinese ancient paintings

Among the bronze artifacts excavated in China, bronze mirrors occupy a large proportion, from the Warring States period to the Ming and Qing dynasties. Among them, the Huiji mirror around the Han Dynasty period, the Huaniao mirror and special craft mirror of Sui and Tang Dynasty, and the Huzhou mirror of Song Dynasty are the most well-known.

Traditional Chinese Bronze Mirror History & Meaning

挥扇仕女图 - Tang Dynasty

Correspondingly, paintings about the use of bronze mirrors by the ancients from the Tang and Song dynasties to the Ming and Qing dynasties have also proliferated, as well as the scenes of bronze mirrors in use on some of the terracotta figurines and on the bronze mirrors itself.

Women's natural love of beauty, dressing up was part of their daily life in ancient times, so ancient Chinese paintings show a large proportion of women looking in the mirror. In contrast, the subject matter of men looking in the mirror was mostly associated with the sentiments of ancient emperors who were worried about the country and the people.

Traditional Chinese Bronze Mirror History & Meaning

This painting "Lady at her dressing table in a garden (靓妆仕女图, by Su Hanchen, Southern Song dynasty)", for example, depicts a lady dressing up, with her face shown through a mirror, and her quiet and slightly sad expression. The painting also uses scattered peach blossoms, a few new bamboo sticks and daffodils to set off the figure's state of mind. The painting is clear and beautiful, with soft colors.

Traditional Chinese Bronze Mirror History & Meaning

Lady at her dressing table in a garden

In this painting, "Looking in a Mirror by an Ornamental Box (绣栊晓镜图, by Wang Shen, Southern Song dynasty)", a woman finished with her morning makeup, and meditating in the mirror or looking at herself with dignity and a slightly sad expression. A servant girl is holding a tea tray, while another woman is reaching for the food box in the tray. The brushwork is fine and smooth, and the dressing color is beautiful and clear. The face in the mirror is clearly visible. The mirror frame is designed like a chair.

Traditional Chinese Bronze Mirror History & Meaning

Looking in a Mirror by an Ornamental Box

Under the plum blossom tree, a slender beauty is holding a bronze mirror, concentrating on her make-up. At her side, there are also stones and daffodils. The whole painting is made to look serene and elegant. The plum blossom-shaped "Huadian" decorated on the forehead of the beauty becomes the most striking focus of the painting.

Traditional Chinese Bronze Mirror History & Meaning Traditional Chinese Bronze Mirror History & Meaning

The elegant and noble environment constructed by the exquisite furniture and rich furnishings in the picture indicates that this picture shows the scene of the daily life of court women. Dressing up was one of the important elements in the daily life of noble women, and they did not dare to be negligent about it.

The picture depicts a woman waking up in the morning to do her makeup in the mirror. In order to get a good angle for the mirror, she can't help but stand up and gaze at the bronze mirror on the table, while her left hand slowly plugs a jade hairpin into the temples. The plot is vivid and the character's manner is natural, showing the author's meticulous observation and accurate artistic expression.

Traditional Chinese Bronze Mirror History & MeaningTraditional Chinese Bronze Mirror History & Meaning


Self-portrait with the mirror

Painting self-portraits in the mirror by painters in ancient China has been recorded for a long time, at least since the Eastern Jin Dynasty. The image of woman painting a self-portrait in front of a mirror also appears on the lid of a mirror trousseau in the Northern Song Dynasty.

Traditional Chinese Bronze Mirror History & Meaning

Traditional Chinese Bronze Mirror History & Meaning

This artifact, for example, is exquisitely engraved with a courtyard decorated with banana and lake rocks. A woman is seen leaning over a table and drawing, accompanied by a number of maids, one of whom is holding a huge bronze mirror. The woman is penning a portrait against her face in the mirror, and the self-portrait on the table has already taken shape.

Traditional Chinese Bronze Mirror History & Meaning

In the painting "Qian Qiu Jue Yan Tu" by a Ming Dynasty painter, the image of Xue Yuan's self-portrait with the mirror is depicted. Xue Yuan is seen sitting in front of a book case, on which there are spreads of drawing paper and books, pens and ink and other literary objects. There is a mirror stand on a high table beside the case, on which stands a bronze mirror. Xue Yuan is looking at the mirror sideways, while looking at her face, while drawing with her brush. The self-portrait in the painting has taken shape, and it is no different from her own appearance.

Traditional Chinese Bronze Mirror History & Meaning

Qian Qiu Jue Yan Tu

The illustration of the book "The Peony Pavilion" was made by Huang Mingqi, a carver of the Huizhou style, in which the scene of Du Liniang drawing her self-portrait in her boudoir is meticulously shown. A desk is set up in front of the bed, on which are placed brush, ink, paper and ink stone, and other literary tools. A bronze mirror was set up on the top right of the table, and Du Liniang's face was reflected in the mirror.

Traditional Chinese Bronze Mirror History & Meaning

In the illustration, we can see three images of Duliniang, which are Duliniang in the drawing, Duliniang in the mirror, and Duliniang in the painting. These three images of Dulignan are interlinked, seemingly real and illusory, and together they reproduce the scene of ancient women drawing their portraits in the mirror and painting their self-portraits.


Bronze Mirror Polisher

Bronze mirror is made of copper, tin, lead alloy casting, and air contact over time, will become dull, can not be used to reflect the shadow. In this case, you need to re-sharpen the mirror to make the bronze mirror light can be seen. There are two types of mirror grinding, one is to polishing the mirror surface when the mirror is first made. The other is the daily maintenance after use.

Traditional Chinese Bronze Mirror History & Meaning

Newly made bronze mirror, the surface is very dim and blurred, can not illuminate the figure and appearance; need to use the abrasive coating, and then wipe with felt, the human hair and eyebrows can be clearly presented in the mirror after the subtleties.

For mirror grinding, only the abrasive is not enough, there must be a very flat reference plane, so that the mirror surface with the grinding, in order to make the mirror surface to achieve the same flat and smooth as the reference plane.

Traditional Chinese Bronze Mirror History & Meaning

Mr. Fu Ju (负局先生), the legendary mirror polisher who carries the mirror box. The so-called "Ju" is a square, flat, chessboard-like mirror grinding tool. Mr. Negative Bureau seems to be grinding mirrors as a profession, but in fact he is a benevolent doctor who delivers medicine to patients and helps the world, and he is the first mirror grinder in Chinese history to leave his name. He was the first bronze mirror polisher in Chinese history to leave his name behind.

Traditional Chinese Bronze Mirror History & Meaning

In this painting, the mirror polisher is recorded in detail. The half-opened door is decorated with a couplet, and several early plum blossoms peek out from the wall, indicating a happy new year. The two women facing the viewer should be the maids of the house, one holding a child and the other holding a round mirror. The body of the mistress is hidden behind the door, showing only her side face, but her face is intact in the mirror, both illusionary and real. The old man, dressed in rags and full of smiles, was polishing a round mirror on a wooden frame, next to the bottle containing the powder.

Traditional Chinese Bronze Mirror History & Meaning

Traditional Chinese Bronze Mirror History & Meaning

The paintings or artifacts related to the use of bronze mirrors left behind in ancient China, together with the poems and lyrics related to bronze mirrors left behind by literati and writers throughout the ages, together with the bronze mirror objects left behind, make it possible for us to understand the daily lives of the ancients. This process we all experience to a greater or lesser extent, allowing us to gain something and gain insight in the process of appreciating ancient artworks.

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4 Comment(s) A文章作者 M管理员
  1. pelangis821

    Cermin perunggu, itu unik

  2. pelangis821

    Terimakasih artikelnya

  3. Merriel

    Mirror, mirror, on the wall...sorry, someone had to ^^ Great article. I wonder if the mirrors we dug up are still usable if polished again? So we can see the quality of hte reflexions. Oh! imagine someone does that, and sees the last face that looked into the mirror in history! would make a great story, wouldn't it? ^^

    • 陈

      Omg that's an interesting trope 😂😂