Inscribed mirror with animals and figures


Historical period(s)
Eastern Han dynasty or Three Kingdoms period, 2nd-3rd century
Diam x D: 13.5 x 1.5 cm (5 5/16 x 9/16 in)
Credit Line
Purchase — Charles Lang Freer Endowment
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view
Metalwork, Mirror


animal, casting, China, Han dynasty (206 BCE - 220 CE), qin, WWII-era provenance

From at least 1937
C.T. Loo & Company, New York from at least February 12, 1937 [1]

From 1937
Freer Gallery of Art, purchased from C. T. Loo & Company on May 3, 1937 [2]


[1] See C. T. Loo's letter to John E. Lodge, dated February 12, 1937, where the bronze is mentioned as being sent to the Freer Gallery, copy in object file.

[2] See C. T. Loo's invoice, dated May 3, 1937, copy in object file. See also C. T. Loo's stockcard no. 36/283 where the object is listed as "Black bronze mirror with raised decoration of animals and seal like inscriptions. Han," Frank Caro Archive, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, copy in object file.

Previous Owner(s)

C.T. Loo & Company active 1908-1950


Illustrations of a famous story about the qin and its ability to convey emotions adorn these mirrors decorated with supernatural animals and important figures. When Boya, a legendary master of the zither, performed on his qin, his companion Zhong Ziqi was able to interpret his thoughts as he played. If Boya contemplated surging waters, Zhong uncannily responded, "How skillful and sublime, just like surging waters." When Zhong died, Boya broke his qin, believing no one else would understand his music. Through this story, the qin came to symbolize sublime communication between like-minded friends.

Boya's teacher, Cheng Lian, appears on the Eastern Han mirror. Cheng was said to transport Boya to the Isles of the Immortals to perfect his student's technique. This highlights another aspect of lore about the qin, namely, its connection with magic and celestial harmony.

Published References
  • compiled by the staff of the Freer Gallery of Art. A Descriptive and Illustrative Catalogue of Chinese Bronzes: Acquired During the Administration of John Ellerton Lodge. Oriental Studies Series, no. 3 Washington, 1946. p. 78, pl. 40.
  • Florance Waterbury. Bird-Deities in China. Supplementum 10 Ascona, Switzerland. p. 132, pl. 56.
  • Smithsonian Institution. Report of the Secretary for the Year Ended June 30, 1937. Washington. pl. 1.
Collection Area(s)
Chinese Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
Rights Statement

Copyright with museum