Chinese mirrors and Safavid astrolabes

I recently visited Taiwan’s National Palace Museum, whose collection has quite a few of these lovely mirrors:

Given the shape, size, loops of woven cord, and intricate (often vegetal) motifs, I can’t help noticing commonalities with Safavid astrolabe retes and thrones.


The mirrors are all much older (2nd-10th century AD) than the Safavid astrolabes they resemble (16th-19th century AD), although the museum wall text mentioned that the mirrors were prized as antiquities well into the Qing dynasty (1636-1912 AD): “Members of the Qing imperial family not only collected ancient mirrors, they also enjoyed actually using them.”

The wall text also brought to mind the “mirror of the heavens” idea, as well as other themes associated with Islamic astrolabes.

[…] the [Chinese] ancients associated the bright shine of a burnished bronze mirror with the sun and moon, the mirror gradually becoming a religious instrument considered capable of avoiding and expelling inauspicious things. The reflective property of mirrors likewise turned it into a historical metaphor for looking into the past as a way to understand the present.

The Quranic verse ayat al-kursi that is inscribed on many Islamic astrolabes can have similar associations with protecting against inauspicious things. I would argue that the astrolabes also involve reflecting on time, but the future rather than the past; their imagery and non-functional inscriptions allude to the afterlife and the goal of heaven.

Naturally, I wonder if the resemblance between these mirrors and Persian astrolabes is indicative of some sort of cultural exchange. It’s not implausible — there are centuries of known influences between the arts of China and the Middle East (which the museum even highlighted for several other objects) — but I must emphasize that I have no solid evidence for this particular case. But I will mention if I learn of anything further.