Mirror with Dragons
Koryo period (918–1392)
9 1/4 in. diameter (23.5 cm diameter)
Currently Not On View
Bronze mirrors were essential items in the toilet sets of aristocratic ladies; they survive because of the East Asian custom of placing them in tombs. As with other luxury goods so deposited, the mirrors were meant to be used by the dead in the spirit world. Because mirrors reflect images and light, it was believed they had the power to radiate light for eternity, magically illuminating the interior of the tomb. This custom, which originated in China as early as the fourth century B.C., appeared in the tenth century in Korea. Although Korean mirrors made in the Koryo period (936–1392) follow contemporary Chinese prototypes in form and design, they generally have a softer definition of sculptural detail. On this mirror, two lively dragons chasing pearls, or flaming jewels, decorate the primary field around a central lotus petal medallion. In the East, dragons are connected with water, rain, and thunder, and thus symbolize the spring season and fertility. The significance of the pearl or jewel is not known. The reverse side, which is perfectly flat and smooth, would have been highly polished, forming an excellent reflecting surface. The boss in the center has a transverse opening for the loop of a braided silk tassel that served as the mirror’s handle, while the mirror was supported by a lacquered wood stand.