Mirror Design of sea and islands


Mirror Design of sea and islands


Tang dynasty or Nara period, 8th century

Hakudo bronze

径45.9 縁厚1.4


National Treasure

These extremely large mirrors are masterpieces of ancient Japanese metalwork. According to an inventory of Horyuji temple from the 8th century, these two mirrors were donated to the temple by Empress Komyo on the 22nd day of the second month of 736, the 8th year of the Tenpyo era. This date was the anniversary of the death of Prince Shotoku, a statesman who promoted Buddhism and built the Horyuji temple. These mirrors thus reflect how the Prince was worshipped in ancient Japan.

The mirrors were made by casting shining white copper called hakudo, while the designs on their reverse sides are currently displayed. The designs of the two mirrors have slight differences; it is believed that both were cast with the same mold, but that the mold had been damaged. The patterns therefore had to be touched up by hand, resulting in slight differences.

Four mountains stretch towards the center from the edges of the mirrors, while the space in between them is filled with waves. This design is referred to as “seas and mountains,” but the mandarin ducks suggest that the setting is a river or lake. On the islands, male and female pairs of animals like chickens, tigers, and deer are shown, while fishermen in boats and people riding on driftwood are depicted on the water. This sort of design is thought to represent sacred mountains and immortal beings. It provides a glimpse into the peaceful and prosperous world dreamed of by the people who created these mirrors so long ago.

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