A large ‘Moon and Prunus’ bronze mirror, Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279)

A large ‘Moon and Prunus’ bronze mirror, Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279). Diameter 7 1⁄16 inches (18 cm). Price On Request© 2020 J.J. Lally & Co., New York

well cast in varied relief with a stylized scene of a songbird perched on a blossoming prunus branch above a crescent moon reflected in the rippled surface of a lake, all encircled by a narrow band of running keyfret and a raised rim, the dark green surface highlighted with scattered malachite encrustation, the plain reflecting surface on the reverse with bright green malachite and red cuprite patination.

A very similar ‘Moon and Prunus’ bronze mirror with a broken handle in the Museum of Prince Kung’s Mansion is illustrated on their website, described as Song dynasty.

Compare the silver lobed dish with closely related ‘moon and prunus’ design, discovered from a cache at Gu county, Shaowu city, Fujian province, and now in the collection of Shaowu City Museum, illustrated in Wenyi Shaoxing: Nan Song yishu yu wenhua—qiwu juan (Dynastic Renaissance: Art and Culture of the Southern Song—Antiquities), Taipei, 2010, pp. 182-183, no. III-58.

Compare also the silver lobed dish with ‘moon and prunus’ design, discovered from the tomb of Zhang Tongzhi (d. 1195) and his wife (d. 1199) in Huangyueling, Jiangpu, Jiangsu province, illustrated in Wenwu, 2017, No. 8, p. 44, no. 1, noted by the author on p. 43 that the ‘moon and prunus’ pattern was popular in the Song and Yuan dynasties to decorate ceramics, lacquer wares, gold and silver wares, and bronze mirrors.

During the Song dynasty, the transitory beauty of the flowering plum (mei hua) was a theme which inspired many Chinese poets and painters, and the mei hua motif acquired a special relevance and widespread popularity in the arts of the Southern Song period. In a chapter on literary and cultural traditions, under the heading ‘The Flowering Plum in Southern Song’ in Bones of Jade, Soul of Ice: The Flowering Plum in Chinese Art by Bickford, New Haven, 1985, pp. 26-28, the author points out that the popularity of the mei hua theme in the Song dynasty coincides with the retreat of the Song court to the south, and by “… choosing Hangzhou as their capital for strategic reasons, the Song court happened to settle in the heartland of the flowering plum tradition.” Bickford goes on to say “… the upheaval of the Northern-Southern Song transition and the political vulnerability of the Southern Song gave added resonance to the theme of transience embodied in falling plum blossoms. The flowering-plum aesthetic of plain elegance suited the ultrarefined taste of the Song elite …”

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