The motifs on the mirror are composed with concentric circles of geometric and mythical animal designs, Chinese characters and TLV-shaped signs. In the middle of the mirror is a square containing twelve small bosses interspersed with the characters of the twelve earth branches of the Chinese Zodiac.
Bronze mirrors were often made as guides for the soul in the afterworld. Within Chinese tradition, the square within the circle depicted the round heaven and square earth. In this divided universe, the Four Spirits - Azure Dragon, White Tiger, Red Bird, and Black Tortoise - command the cardinal directions, seasons, elements, or forces, as well as a spectrum of outer and inner virtues.
The Azure Dragon represents the East, the wood element and the Yang masculine force. The TLV-shaped signs are borrowed from the 'Liu Bo' game popular during the Qin and Han dynasties and played by males during ritual ceremonies.
This type of mirror appeared as early as the mid-Western Han dynasty, reached its peak of popularity during the late Western Han and early Eastern Han dynasty, before gradually disappearing by the late Eastern Han.
Asian Art Department, AGNSW, January 2012
Mirror with TLV design
Place where the work was made
Han dynasty 206 BCE - 220 CE → China
206 BCE-220 CE
14.3 cm diam.
Gift of Graham E. Fraser 1988
Not on display
Where the work was made
Shown in 3 exhibitions
Referenced in 2 publications
Jackie Menzies, Early Chinese Art, Sydney, 1983, not paginated. cat.no. XIX. See 'Further Information' for text.
Jackie Menzies (Editor), The Asian Collections Art Gallery of New South Wales, 'Bronzes and Jades', Sydney, 2003, 75 (colour illus.).