Rare object known as ‘magic mirror’ on display at Cincinnati Art Museum

Published: Jul. 22, 2022 at 4:14 PM EDT
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CINCINNATI (WXIX) - A new display opens at the Cincinnati Art Museum Saturday. The artifact was in storage for decades before a curator decided to do some research on the object.

The artifact dates back to the 15th or 16th century. It’s so rare there are only three of them known to be in existence around the world. All three are in museums.

It’s called a Buddhist praying mirror. The back of the mirror has six letters which stand for Amida Buddha. The mirror itself appears at first sight to be tarnished and no longer working.

Cincinnati Art Museum East Asian Art Curator Hou-Mei Sung did some research and found that these mirrors can sometimes be referred to as magic mirrors.

“This is the most exciting thing that happened.” Sung said. “I was doing research trying to place this object in our Buddhist gallery and then while I was researching I realized that there is the so called Buddhist magic mirror.”

That’s when Sung had the idea to shine a light against the mirror and see what happened. Sure enough, her instinct was right and the mirror reflected this image like a projection. You can see what appears to be Buddha surrounded by light.

Sung says there are only two other mirrors like this in the world that she knows of. Both of those are on display in museums at the MET in New York and at a museum in Tokyo.

“Of course this is for religious purpose to give people hope and salvation,” Sung said. “And I think people should feel very excited to see this very rare object in our museum.”

The origin of the mirror is still unknown but it is likely China or Japan. Sung hopes others come to see and learn the history behind this artifact. Admission to the Cincinnati Art Museum is free.

It is open Tuesday through Sunday 11a.m. to 5 p.m. and open late on Thursdays until 8 p.m.

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