A SECRET message has been discovered in an ancient artefact using a centuries-old “magic mirror”.
The small bronze relic dating back to the 15th or 16th century had been stored away for decades amid thousands of treasures in the Cincinnati Art Museum’s East Asian art collection.
While it looked unremarkable to the untrained eye, the bronze plate was hiding an incredible secret – in plain sight.
“Magic mirrors” are an ancient art that has its origins in the Han Dynasty (206 B.C. to 220 A.D.), the museum said.
The polished bronze artefacts have a pattern cast on one side, and a shiny surface that can be used as a mirror.
When bright light reflects into the mirror, the pattern or image is projected onto the wall.
The museum’s curator of East Asian art, Hou-mei Sung, was researching these so-called magic mirrors when he came across a piece of art that looked similar to those she knew from Edo-period Japan.
The one in Cincinnati displayed a more complex style of Chinese script (南無阿彌陀佛) that spelt six characters: the name of Amitābha Buddha.
“It’s really fate or luck,” Sung told Artnet News. “We were going to put the bronze artwork on view in a museum gallery. Out of curiosity, I wanted to test it.”
So Sung decided to bring a conservation expert to the museum storage and train a light on Cincinnati’s suspected magic mirror.
“I asked her to ‘shine a strong, focused light on the mirror’,” Sung told 7News.
“So, she used her cell phone (flashlight) and it worked.”
After a few tries, the 8.5 inches (22cm) diametre mirror’s secret appeared on the wall in front of them – it revealed the image of a Buddha, rays of light emanating from his seated form.
Worldwide, only three other institutions own a Buddhist-themed magic mirror.
“We were so excited,” Sung said.
The expert is yet to decipher whether the mirror originated in China or Japan, but she believes it may be the former.
Sung said many art collectors or institutions may be in possession of such extraordinary artefacts “that people don’t even know are magic”.
The Buddha mirror is now displaced at the Cincinnati museum.
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