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Dates:2015/3/31 ~ 2017/2/28

In ancient China, the mirror was a precious instrument for examining a person’s appearance. In addition to tidying dress and head ornaments, the ancients associated the bright shine of a burnished bronze mirror with the sun and moon, the mirror gradually becoming a religious instrument considered capable of avoiding and expelling inauspicious things. The reflective property of mirrors likewise turned it into a historical metaphor for looking into the past as a way to understand the present.

The ancient Chinese cast mirrors out of bronze, burnishing the flat side to make it shiny while decorating the back with various patterns. With their craftsmanship and aesthetics changing over the ages, mirrors became an important medium expressing the artistic spirit of the period in which they were made and thereby highly treasured. In the Northern Song period (960-1127), the court and scholars alike placed great value on antiquities, driving the trend towards compiling and editing catalogues of ancient artifacts. Emperor Huizong (r. 1101-1126) had the court collection of antiquities organized to include 112 Han and Tang dynasty bronze mirrors in his Xuanhe bogutu (Xuanhe Illustrated Antiquities) of 1123, leading the way for mirrors to become part of catalogues on ancient objects.

Later, in the Qing dynasty, the court amassed a particularly rich collection of ancient mirrors. The Qianlong emperor (r. 1736-1795) followed the idea and pattern of Huizong’s Xuanhe bogutu and had four catalogues of ancient bronzes compiled over the years, including Xiqing gujian (1751), Ningshou jiangu (ca. 1776-1781), Xiqing xujian: jiabian (1793), and Xiqing xujian: yibian (1793), collectively known as "Xiqing sijian." In addition, a special effort was made to bring together the ancient mirrors mentioned in these catalogues in cases named after their respective catalogues. Serving as display objects at various halls in the Qing palaces, it became a new method for the storage of ancient mirrors. Members of the Qing imperial family not only collected ancient mirrors, they also enjoyed actually using them. Having new stands made for these ancient artifacts, considerable refinement was added to everyday life.

In the sixteenth century, during the late Ming and early Qing dynasties, increasing contact between the East and West led to the import of European glass mirrors into China, offering a brand-new experience for the elite. In the Qing dynasty, the Kangxi emperor (r. 1662-1722) even had a glass factory established, and the local production of glass mirrors commenced at that time. Many new materials and techniques were developed to adorn the frames of these glass mirrors, such as painted enamel, carved jade and ivory, and bronze and woodworking. With the spread of glass mirrors in the middle to late Qing dynasty, bronze mirrors were gradually thus displaced as the mainstream.

The scope of this exhibition deals with the appreciation, mounting, and use of mirrors by members of the Qing imperial court and is divided into three sections. The first is "The Art and Antiquity of Mirrors: The Emperor’s Collection of Bronze Mirrors" and represents a selection of ancient mirrors from the Han to Ming dynasties once in the Qing imperial collection. Presenting a continuous development of bronze mirrors over nearly two millennia, this section also includes the understanding of and comments by ancient rulers concerning antique mirrors. The second, "Storage and Display: The Mounting and Cases of Bronze Mirrors," features such mirror cases and accessories as "Xiqing xujian," "Xiqing xujian yibian," and "Ningshou xujian" in the National Palace Museum collection manufactured by the court of the Qianlong emperor. Not only can audiences appreciate the form and beauty of these album-style cases, the background to the production of these mirror cases can also be traced. The third section, "Adorning the Beauty in Mirrors: Reflections of Mirrors in Life," shows how ancient mirrors functioned in and adorned everyday life as well as presents an array and the development of glass mirrors at the Qing court.