An image of Mirror with 'caoye' design

Unknown Artist

Mirror with 'caoye' design

Not on display
Further information

Chinese bronze mirrors are generally thin circular discs, slightly convex on the polished reflecting side and decorated with cast designs of a symbolic nature on the reverse. A small loop or pierced dome at the centre of the reversed side was used to attach a cord. The earliest known mirrors date from at least the Western Zhou period (900s-800s BCE) but it was during the Han and Tang dynasties that large numbers of highly ornamented mirrors were produced. Their reflective function made them a vehicle for the expression of a fascinating range of mythological and cosmological ideas and beliefs.

The distinctive 'caoye', or grass and leaf, pattern is defined by the symmetrical motif resembling an ear of corn and the trefoil forms which appear on the main ground of the mirror around the central square. An inscription cast into the square band reads: 'jianri zhiming, tianxia daming' (may you see the light of the sun and may the world enjoy great lightness), suggesting that the design symbolises a form of cosmological harmony.

‘The Asian Collections: Art Gallery of New South Wales’. pg.74
© 2003 Trustees, Art Gallery of New South Wales

Place of origin
China: Han dynasty 206 BCE–220 CE
circa 1st century BCE
bronze, 'caoye' type
13.1 cm diam.
Gift of Graham E. Fraser 1986
Accession number