Bronze mirror decorated with the figure of a boatman

From Japan
Edo period, late 17th or early 18th century AD

'First under Heaven'

During the Edo period, some bronze mirrors were made with handles, and without the usual central boss. This allowed a much greater freedom of composition in the design. This mirror depicts a man punting a log by water. Such designs showing people at work were particularly popular among richer townsmen from the late seventeenth century.

This unusually large handled mirror is inscribed Tenka-Ichi ('First under Heaven'). Leading mirror-makers were often much revered, since the mirror, together with the sword and the jewel were emblems of Imperial power. From the late sixteenth century an outstanding craftsman could be elected by his guild as Tenka-Ichi. This practice was officially stopped in 1682, but the title was still misused by inferior craftsmen and continues to appear throughout the Edo period.

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More information


L. Smith, V. Harris and T. Clark, Japanese art: masterpieces in (London, The British Museum Press, 1990)

L. Smith and V. Harris, Japanese decorative arts from (London, The British Museum Press, 1982)


Length: 32.400 cm (with handle)

Museum number

Asia JA 1944.4-1.3


Gift of Dr. W.L. Hidburgh


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