Mirror with Chrysanthemums, Butterflies, and Birds


Mirror with Chrysanthemums, Butterflies, and Birds

metalwork / Heian / Yamagata

Place excavated:Found from Mitarai Pond, Mt. Haguro, Tsuruoka City, Yamagata

Heian period, 12th century

Cast bronze


Modern-day mirrors are made by sticking a silver film to the back of a clear glass surface. They became widely used in Japan from the mid-19th century onwards. Before then, mirrors were made exclusively of bronze. The bronze was heated into liquid form and poured into a mold, with one side then burnished until capable of reflection and the other side decorated with various motifs. Bronze mirrors were first brought to Japan from China around the 2nd century BC. Many mirrors from Tang-dynasty China arrived on Japan‘s shores in the 8th century, with copies subsequently produced within Japan itself. From the 10th to the 12th century, mirror shapes and designs gradually changed. This led to the emergence of bronze mirrors with uniquely Japanese forms and motifs.

This small, round bronze mirror was also made in Japan. The rear surface is covered with chrysanthemums, with two birds and two butterflies positioned around the center. The central knob has a hole for threading cord. The mirror was cast in bronze and fashioned in a very thin, light manner. A spatula was used to mark out tiny indentations and ridges onto the mold, so the birds, butterflies and chrysanthemums rise gently from the surface. These are all characteristic features of 12th-century mirrors.

In the early 20th century, nearly 600 mirrors were excavated from Mitarashi Pond in front of the main hall of Dewa-Sanzan Shrine at Mount Haguro, Yamagata Prefecture. Ownership of these mirrors is now shared between Dewa-Sanzan Shrine and Tokyo National Museum, amongst others.

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