Mirror with game board design and animals of the four directions


On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 207

The diagrammatic decoration on the back of this mirror points to a new cosmology. The square world—aligned with the four cardinal directions and inscribed with the “twelve earthly branches” used to compute the calendar—is surrounded by the circular heavens ringed in turn by the waves of the cosmic ocean. Sharing the heavenly realm with the animals of the four directions (the red bird of the south, white tiger of the west, entwined turtle and snake of the north, and the blue dragon of the east) and other mythical creatures are T-, L-, and V-shaped markings that recall the measuring devices and rulers used by Fu Xi and Nu Wa, who were believed to have created the universe. The same “TLV” design also appears on the liubo game board, suggesting that a game of chance also plays a part in the workings of the universe.

Mirror with game board design and animals of the four directions, Bronze with black patina, China

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