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Hidden image revealed in reflection of centuries-old artifact

Among the thousands of treasures in the Cincinnati Art Museum’s collection of East Asian art, a small bronze mirror dating from the 15th or 16th century has always seemed rather unremarkable. Last exhibited in 2017, it had spent much of the previous decades in storage, where it sat on a shelf in the background alongside other objects barred from public view. Related video above: Mona Lisa smeared with ice cream in apparent climate-related trick But the artifact had a secret that was hiding in plain sight. While researching so-called “magic mirrors” — rare ancient mirrors that, under certain light, reveal images or patterns hidden in their reflective surfaces — the museum’s curator of East Asian art, Hu-mei Sung, saw something similar to the Japanese examples of the Edo period. The object in storage in Cincinnati, Ohio, was smaller than those held in museums in Tokyo, Shanghai and New York. It also contained a more complex style of Chinese writing. However, Sung recalls that there was something “very similar” about it. So last spring, she visited the museum’s storage areas accompanied by a conservation specialist. “I asked her to shine a strong, focused light on the mirror,” Sung said in the video call from Cincinnati. “So she used her cellphone (flashlight) and it worked.” On the wall before them was the appearance of the texture in the reflected light—not a distinct image, but enough to warrant further investigation. After experiments using more powerful and focused lights, the mirror finally revealed the image of a Buddha, rays of light emanating from his seated form. The inscription on the back of the mirror clarifies who is depicted: Amitabha, an important figure in various schools of East Asian Buddhism. The discovery makes the museum one of the few institutions in the world to have a magic mirror, according to Sung. The curator knows of only three others who own rare Buddhist subjects, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. “We were so excited,” Sung said. Mystery in Progress Before the invention of today’s glass mirrors, people from cultures around the world looked into polished bronze, from ancient Egypt to the Indus Valley. The ancient art of Chinese magic mirrors was first developed during the Han Dynasty, about 2,000 years ago, although they were later made in Japan. To create the mysterious effect, artisans began by casting images, words or designs on one side of a bronze plaque. The scientists believe they then scraped and scratched the plain surface on the other side, before polishing it until it became reflective like a conventional mirror. Because the plate was of different thickness due to the relief pattern, the process created very small changes in curvature on the apparently blank side of the mirror. A mercury-based substance was then used to create additional surface stresses that were invisible to the naked eye but matched the elaborate designs on the back, according to an article in UNESCO’s Courier magazine. a hidden image—matching the pattern on the back—would be revealed, giving the illusion that light was passing right through the mirror. For this reason, they are known in Chinese as “transparent” or “light-penetrating” mirrors. (In the case of the Cincinnati Art Museum discovery, however, a second metal plate was probably glued to the back, leaving the original Buddha relief hidden.) The mirrors puzzled Western scientists who encountered them in the 19th century. And while their optics are now widely understood, Sung said experts still don’t know exactly how artisans made the metal,” he said. “That’s why it’s so rare.” Measuring about 8.5 inches in diameter, the museum’s mirror was likely used as a religious ornament and may have hung in a temple or stately home. The museum has yet to decipher whether it came from China or Japan, though Sung believes it is probably the former. The object was first recorded in the museum’s Asian art collection in 1961, although the curator believes it may have been acquired long before then. He also suspects that other institutions and collectors possess the magic mirrors without knowing it. understand.”I’ve found a lot in online auctions that have a similar design to ours, but (the auction listings) never say they’re magic mirrors,” he said. , adding, “I think there could be some mirrors out there that the people don’t even know they’re magical.” The mirror will be on display at the Cincinnati Art Museum starting July 23.

Among the Cincinnati Art Museum’s thousands of East Asian treasures art collection, a small bronze mirror dating from the 15th or 16th century has always looked rather uninteresting.

Last exhibited in 2017, it had spent much of the previous decades in storage, sitting on a back room shelf alongside other objects barred from public display.

Related video above: The Mona Lisa is smeared with ice cream in an apparent climate-related trick

But the artifact had a secret that was hiding in plain sight.

While researching so-called “magic mirrors” — rare ancient mirrors that, under certain light, reveal images or patterns hidden in their reflective surfaces — the museum’s curator of East Asian art, Hou-mei Sung, saw something similar to the examples of Edo-period Japan.

The object stored in Cincinnati, Ohio was smaller than those held in museums in Tokyo, Shanghai and New York City. It also contained a more complex style of Chinese writing. However, Sung recalls that there was something “very similar” about it.

So last spring, she visited the museum’s warehouses accompanied by a conservation specialist.

“I asked her to shine a strong, focused light on the mirror,” Sung said in a video call from Cincinnati. “Well, she used her cellphone (flashlight) and it worked.”

On the wall before them was the appearance of the texture in the reflected light—not a distinct image, but enough to warrant further investigation. After experiments using more powerful and focused lights, the mirror finally revealed the image of a Buddha, rays of light emanating from his seated form. The inscription on the back of the mirror clarifies who is depicted: Amitabha, an important figure in various schools of East Asian Buddhism.

The discovery makes the museum one of the few institutions in the world to have a magic mirror, according to Sung. The curator knows of only three others in possession of rare Buddhist subjects, including Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

“We were so excited,” Sung said.

Mystery in progress

Before the invention of today’s glass mirrors, people from cultures around the world looked at polished bronze, from ancient Egypt to the Indus Valley. The ancient art of Chinese magic mirrors was first developed during the Han Dynasty, about 2,000 years ago, although they were later made in Japan.

To create the mysterious effect, artisans began by casting images, words or designs on one side of a copper plate. The scientists believe they then scraped and scratched the plain surface on the other side, before polishing it until it became reflective like a conventional mirror. Because the plate was of different thickness due to the relief pattern, the process created very small changes in curvature on the apparently blank side of the mirror. A mercury-based substance was then used to create additional surface stresses that were invisible to the naked eye but matched the elaborate designs on the back, according to a article in the UNESCO Courier magazine.

When sunlight hits the reflective surface in a certain way, a hidden image – matching the pattern on the back – will be revealed, giving the illusion that the light was passing right through the mirror. For this reason, they are known in Chinese as “transparent” or “light-penetrating” mirrors. (In the case of the Cincinnati Art Museum discovery, however, a second metal plate was likely welded to the back, leaving the original Buddha relief hidden inside.)

Mirrors puzzled Western scientists who encountered them in the 19th century. And while their visuals are now widely understoodSung said experts still don’t know exactly how the craftsmen made the metal.

“No matter how much you can theoretically explain, it all depends on the master polishing the surface, which is extremely difficult,” he said. “That’s why they’re so rare.”

Measuring approximately 8.5 inches in diameter, the museum mirror was likely used as a religious ornament and may have hung in a temple or noble home. The museum has yet to decipher whether it came from China or Japan, although Sung believes it is likely the former.

The object was first recorded in the museum’s Asian art collection in 1961, although the curator believes it may have been acquired long before then. He also suspects that other institutions and collectors are in possession of the magic mirrors without realizing it.

“I’ve found a lot in online auctions that have a similar design to ours, but (the auction listings) never say they’re magic mirrors,” he said, adding, “I think there could be some mirrors out there that people don’t ». I don’t even know it’s magic.”

The mirror will be exposed to Cincinnati Art Museum from July 23.

Hidden image revealed in reflection of centuries-old artifact Source link Hidden image revealed in reflection of centuries-old artifact

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