A tiny leopard frozen in mid-leap. A stalking hunter. Twining leaves, coiled dragons, interlaced serpents, swooping birds and “swirling cloud scrolls” that represent “the vital energy, or qi, of everything in the universe”:
These are some of the stunning designs to be found in “Ancient Chinese Bronze Mirrors From the Lloyd Cotsen Collection,” a major exhibition at the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino.
Running through May 14 and organized by Huntington Curator June Li, the first-time exhibition features 87 bronze mirrors — diminutive treasures that span 3,000 years of ancient Chinese history, from the Qijia Culture (2100-1700 BC) to the Jin Dynasty of the 12th and 13th century.
These cast bronze mirrors with once-glossy polished faces are not on display merely as objects of cosmetic use and self-reflection. In fact, the star attractions are the backs of the mirrors. Even green or blue with the patina of age, the intricately decorated surfaces are alive with inscriptions, abstract and symbolic designs, mythical beings, deities, flora and fauna.