Christian Evidence Embedded in Imagery of Chinese Bronze Mirrors

The metalwork and jewelry of the T’ang period are witness to the wealth and cosmopolitan strength of T’ang culture. Many of the finest Sui and T’ang bronze mirrors were made at Yang-chou on the Grand Canal. Bronze was a core component of the ancient Chinese world because it was cast to serve the affairs of the state: ritual and war. Control of bronze objects not only meant control of the instruments of war, but also access to heaven since bronze was the principle material for ritual objects (Chase 1991). Bronze mirrors were used primarily for exorcism. Evil spirits were thought to be repelled by their reflections on the convex surfaces of the bronze mirrors. Taoist monks were said to wear the mirrors on their backs attached by a cord while studying. These bronze mirrors were given as presents at weddings in the hope that the new home occupied by the couple would be protected by these mirrors. Mirrors are found on the chests of the deceased to protect them in the afterlife. Making the Mirrors was made either by casting them in preformed clay molds or molds created by the lost wax method. The metal used is generally an alloy of cooper, tin, and lead. Adding tin and lead to the cooper from my understanding lowers the melting point and makes the metal easier to pour. The lead also makes grinding and polishing easier. The Clay Mold Technology involved creating a void in the clay in the shape of the mirror and poring the molten metal. The clay was made in two sections. One side, the decorative design for the back and the other side was flat. The Lost Wax technology was first fully modeled in wax to create an exact replica of the bronze mirror. Next, a wax funnel (sprue) and small tubes (vents) were attached to the model. The wax model with its system of sprues and vents was then encased in clay or clay-like material and fired. Firing hardened the clay mold and melted or burned out the wax, leaving an empty space in the shape of the mirror. After the molten metal solidified, the mold had to be destroyed to retrieve the bronze mirror. Chinese bronze mirrors can be relatively dated by the types of designs preferred in each period. A popular Tang dynasty motif was the lion-and-grapevine design. It was during the preceding Sui dynasty (A.D. 581-618) that the Chinese had borrowed the grapevine motif from Sassanian Persian silver and textiles. Lions replaced the indigenous Chinese decor of dragons, zodiac animals, and other cosmological symbols from the preceding dynasties. Decorative motifs include, the pearl band, cloud volute, curl border, dragons, and phoenixes which are Chinese; hunting scenes, vine scrolls, rosettes, and opposed birds or animals in roundels are Sassanian Persian. The “lion and grape” mirror was very popular in the 7th and 8th centuries, for it embodied both Chinese directional and “five phases” symbolism, and lions and grapes were also potent symbols in the Christian Nestorian faith introduced by the Uighurs from Central Asia. This type of mirror disappeared abruptly with the persecution of the Christians in 845. Manichean.influence is possible but not likely. Harvard Art museum has a bronze mirror with a lion at the center. It is one of the 27 icons described in Ming Shou Ch’ien Ku which describes an Imperial collection commissioned by Emperor Ch’ien Lung. The lion was a new image to appear in Chinese iconography. Combined with grapes which were also introduced to Tang culture at this time we have a motif that suggests influences from the Persian frontier. Nestorian Christians traded heavily with China exchanging horses for silk. They also seem to have exchanged ideas and religious symbolism. Saint Ephrem favored the spiritual imagery of mirrors. The influence of Ephrem is witnessed in the inscription of the Xian-Fu Stone erected in 781 in the capital of the Tang Empire to commemorate the arrival of Christians from Persia. He wrote: May your resurrection, Jesus, bring true greatness to our spiritual self and may your sacraments be the mirror wherein we may know that self. Savior, your divine plan for the world is a mirror for the spiritual world; teach us to walk in that: world as spiritual men. From a sermon by Saint Ephrem, deacon (Sermo 3, De fine et admonitione 2. 4-5: Opera, edición Lamy 3, 216-222) Let the scriptures be for us like a mirror, let us see in them our fast. Saint Ephrem’s Hymns on Fasting- Hymns- 2- 1: 07 In the book of Cave Treasures Ephrem suggests that Satan uses a mirror to trick Eve in the same way mirrors were used to teach birds how to talk by showing the bird its reflection and speaking from behind the mirror. The use of Chinese bronze mirrors to reflect religious beliefs and imagery in the Tang Dynasty would be quite natural. We get some help from inscriptions found on bronze mirrors that support Christian influence. According to WenHui Daily in June of 2009 ,there is a bronze mirror of the Eastern Han Dynasty discovered in Xuzhou province. People among the 18 words Christianity is referenced. Xuzhou Han Stone librarian, Ma Huan Li, who studied under the famous inscriptions expert Professor Yan Xiaoci, identified the bronze mirror. Ma said the bronze mirror is a Christian Gospel Han inscriptions Mirror. The inscription, partially reads “mirror of God, out of respect for the emperor …. the Son of Man….” Much more work will have to be done on this bronze to determine both authenticity and provenance.   Another bronze that is suggestive of Chrstian influence is found in the Carter Museum in New York. It has eight characters: “Jian Ri Zhi Guang, Chang Wu Xiang Wang” Size:76.7mm Weight:83.9g. It translates as “By the light of the sun, The world is made bright.” Could this be a reference to Christ as the Sun/Son? Otherwise this is a rather mundane saying. A third an most extraordinary mirror is one with a series of crosses. It has a central cross with Persian Iris’ at its tips. An intermedial cross has small crosses at ewach of its tips. I have yet to make out and translate the inscription on the inner circle except for a few words like “tomorrow” “little” and a trisagion-like saying. This mirror has been listed in a French auction catalogue and the piece is probably in private hands. Finally I have acquired in 2011 a bronze mirror of the Tang period of the lion and grape motif. It has a lion at the center with a hole under its belly to pass a cord. The lion is ringed with four other lions and two birds that resemble peacocks. An outer circle has twelve birds and three more lions and two butterflies. Birds and peacocks were a popular motif among the iconography of Syriac Christians of the Persian Empire. From the Rabbula Gospels of the early 7th century. Peacock among grape clusters and vines on the author’s bronze mirror


The Lion and Grape Patterns on Chinese Bronze Mirrors, Schuyler Cammann Artibus Asiae Vol. 16, No. 4 (1953), pp. 265-291, (article consists of 27 pages) Published by: Artibus Asiae Publishers Stable URL: Significant Patterns on Chinese Bronze Mirrors, Schuyler Cammann Archives of the Chinese Art Society of America, Vol. 9, (1955), pp. 43-62 (article consists of 20 pages) Published by: University of Hawai’i Press for the Asia Society Stable URL: See also “Circles of Reflection / The Carter Collection of Chinese Bronze Mirrors” by Ju-hsi Chou (copyright 2000 The Cleveland Museum of Art) Catalogue no. 14 (p.35) A Chinese Bronze Mirror, Sheila Rubin, Annual Report (Fogg Art Museum), No. 1955/1956 (1955 – 1956), pp. 58-59+64 (article consists of 3 pages), Published by: The President and Fellows of Harvard College on behalf of the Harvard Art Museum, Stable URL: The Evolution of the T’ang Lion and Grapevine Mirror, Nancy Thompson, Artibus Asiae, Vol. 29, No. 1 (1967), pp. 25-54, (article consists of 30 pages) Published by: Artibus Asiae Publishers , Stable URL: See Johnson, Dale A., Syncretism: Consciousness and Creativity in the Tang Dynasty, New Sinai Press, 2011 The Cave of Treasures , TRANSLATION (Brit. Mus. MS. Add. 25875.) [THE TITLE OF THE WORK: THE SCRIBES PRAYER.]

About daleinchina

Chongqing University of Arts and Sciences.
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