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Identification and Creation

Object Number
Engraved Tang Mirror
Work Type
late 4th century BCE
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World, Europe, Etruria
Hellenistic period
Persistent Link

Physical Descriptions

Cast, lost-wax process
h. 23.1 x diam. 15.8 x d. 0.5 cm (9 1/8 x 6 1/4 x 3/16 in.)
234.2 g
Technical Details

Chemical Composition: XRF data from Artax 1
Alloy: Bronze
Alloying Elements: copper, tin
Other Elements: lead, iron, arsenic
K. Eremin, January 2014

Technical Observations: The patina on the obverse is light green to dark green, and on the reverse, it is dark green to black with preserved metallic areas.

A 10-cm long tear with many branches extends diagonally through the lower section of the mirror. The obverse, polished surface is well preserved, with several modern scratches in the patina, but there is little evidence of harsh scraping or abrasion. The reverse, engraved side may have been partially abraded in the middle revealing bare metal, although this area could simply be preserved without patina. An ancient repair to the tang of the handle was achieved by pouring a quantity of bronze over the break. The alignment is not exact, but the repair appears to be strong. The surface at the reverse is slightly rough as if the parts were laid on a bead of sand and molten copper alloy poured onto the front surface from above. A thick, bulbous ball (7 mm) of metal from this pour remains on the front side at the join.

The mirror is cast. Dendrites are visible in the areas free of corrosion. The lines are engraved and most appear as smooth curves. However, some of the sharper curves in the lines show catch marks related to a hammer delivering individual blows to the point cutting the line. Notches in the handle were made using an abrasive cutting edge, like a file.

Henry Lie (submitted 2011)


Recorded Ownership History
[Fallani, Rome] (by 1951), sold; to the Alice Corinne McDaniel Collection, Department of the Classics, Harvard University (1951-2012), transfer; to the Harvard Art Museums, 2012.

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Transfer from the Alice Corinne McDaniel Collection, Department of the Classics, Harvard University
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art

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Published Catalogue Text: Ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern Bronzes at the Harvard Art Museums
The reverse of this mirror is decorated with a well-preserved incised depiction of the Dioskouroi standing with a swan that represents their father, Zeus; the disc is bordered by a laurel wreath, in front of which stand the figures. The edge of the disc is raised, and the surface is slightly concave.

Both men are slightly bent forward, looking at each other, with their faces and legs in profile but their torsos in three-quarter view. They are naked except for shoes and brimmed hats (petasoi); the man on the left also wears a cloak, clasped at his neck and hanging over his back. Incised hair is visible under the men’s hats; the hair of the man on the right is slightly longer. The man on the left leans forward, holding a spear in his left hand, with his fingers resting on his chin. His right arm is bent at the elbow and held in front of his chest, his left leg is bent with the foot behind him, and his right leg is held straight.

The man on the right holds his left arm behind is back, while his right arm is bent, reaching out to pat the head of the swan. His right leg is bent and held forward, while his left leg is locked. The body of the swan is partially hidden behind the man on the right. The swan's body faces left, its feet placed between the man in front of him, and its wings are held slightly aloft. Its head is turned in the opposite direction from its body, toward the man on the right. Details of the bodies of the men, particularly the musculature, and of the body of the swan are indicated by solid and stippled lines.

The obverse of the mirror is smooth, with some small scratches. Decoration on the obverse consists of incised volutes and tendrils at the juncture of the disc and the handle or tang. The perimeter of the disc on the obverse is lower than the majority of the surface. The tang is broken at the end, and a large blob of copper alloy is present on the obverse of the tang. There is a long gash through the lower portion of the disc of the mirror.

In Greek mythology, the god Zeus, while in the form of a swan, seduced the mortal woman Leda. She later had four children, hatched from two eggs. Two of the children were mortal and two of the children were divine. These four children were Helen of Troy; Clytemnestra, wife of Agamemnon; and the Dioskouroi, Kastor and Polydeukes (Castor and Pollux). The slight difference in the men’s apparel shown here might be to indicate which of the men was divine (often shown by nudity) and which was mortal (here, the man in the cloak).

This mirror belongs to a group called the Three-leaved Wreath Group, named for the distinctive border on the engraved side attributed to a workshop in Orvieto, Italy (1).

There are ten Etruscan bronze mirrors in the collection of the Harvard Art Museums, ranging in date from the early fifth century to the mid second century BCE. All the mirrors bear engraved designs, and the more elaborately decorated medallions contain scenes involving human or divine figures. Identifiable subjects include a seated Hermes and Lasa (1932.56.38), as well as two young men wearing short chitons and Phrygian caps on 1932.56.37, who may be the Dioskouroi (2). The subjects depicted on other mirrors are more difficult to identify with certainty. One such example is a scene depicting two young men flanking two women, one of whom is nude, in front of an architectural structure (1977.216.1995.A-B); it has been suggested that the figures may be Helen, Clytemnestra, and the Dioskouroi (3). Another scene, less well preserved, shows a figure wearing a peplos and helmet flanked on the left by a man in a short tunic and boots, and on the right by an unidentified woman wearing a peplos and Phrygian cap (1977.216.2311). The central figure is most likely Athena (Etruscan Menrva), and while the figure on the left leans on a club similar to the one often carried by Herakles, it is unusual for that hero to be shown clothed (4). The three stand before a two-story Ionic structure.

Two mirrors in the collection show signs of an interesting afterlife. The disc of 1977.216.2311 has been perforated in ten places, probably as a means of ensuring that the object would be useless to the living and could be permanently dedicated to the deceased; a less plausible suggestion is that the mirror was reused as a strainer (5). Another mirror in the collection (1977.216.3422), if it is ancient, seems to have been reworked in modern times by an engraver who added to the medallion a female bust, a recumbent male, and an inscription. Neither the style nor the subject of the engraving corresponds to examples known from other Etruscan mirrors, and both the engraving and the inscription appear to have been made with a modern instrument (6).


1. See I. M. B. Wiman, “Style, Chemistry and Multivariate Statistics in the Classification of Some Etruscan Mirrors,” Medelhavsmuseet Bulletin 21 (1986): 49-72, esp. 58-61. R. De Puma notes two mirrors within the group that are so close to the Harvard mirror that he suggests all three were engraved by the same hand; see id., Corpus Speculorum Etruscorum. USA 2: Boston and Cambridge (Ames, IA, 1993) 56-57, no. 34; and id., in Anctichita dall’Umbria a New York, exh. cat., ed. Larissa Bonfante Warren and F. Roncalli (Perugia, 1991) 284-86, no. 6.10.

2. De Puma 1993 (supra 1) 59.

3. Ibid., 61.

4. Ibid., 62; and id. in Antichità dall’Umbria a New York, exh. cat., ed. L. Bonfante and F. Roncalli (Perugia, 1991) 288.

5. For the suggested use as a strainer, see D. B. Tanner, “Etruscan Art in the Fogg Museum,” Bulletin of the Fogg Art Museum 3.1 (1933): 12-17, esp. 16. For ritual dedication, see De Puma 1991 (supra 3) 288-89, no. 6.11; id. 1993 (supra 1) 62; and N. T. de Grummond, “On Mutilated Mirrors,” in Votives, Places, and Rituals in Etruscan Religion: Studies in Honor of Jean MacIntosh Turfa, ed. M. Gleba and H. Becker (Leiden, 2009) 171-82.

6. De Puma 1993 (supra 1) 63-64.

Lisa M. Anderson and Kathryn R. Topper

Publication History

  • John Crawford, Sidney Goldstein, George M. A. Hanfmann, John Kroll, Judith Lerner, Miranda Marvin, Charlotte Moore, and Duane Roller, Objects of Ancient Daily Life. A Catalogue of the Alice Corinne McDaniel Collection Belonging to the Department of the Classics, Harvard University, ed. Jane Waldbaum, Department of the Classics (unpublished manuscript, 1970), M6, p. 155-56 [J. S. Crawford]
  • Larissa Bonfante Warren and F. Roncalli, ed., Antichita dall'Umbria a New York, exh. cat., Electa/Editori umbri associati (Perugia, Italy, 1991), p. 284-286, no. 6.10.
  • Richard De Puma, Corpus Speculorum Etruscorum; U.S.A.: volume 2: Boston and Cambridge, Iowa State University Press (Ames, IA, 1993), p. 56-57, no. 34, figs. 34a-d (as McDaniel No. 3).
  • Henry Lie and Francesca Bewer, "Ex Aere Factum: Technical Notes on Ancient Bronzes", Ancient Bronzes through a Modern Lens: Introductory Essays on the Study of Ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern Bronzes, ed. Susanne Ebbinghaus, Harvard Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2014), 38-63, pp. 51-52, fig. 2.8.
  • Susanne Ebbinghaus, ed., Ancient Bronzes through a Modern Lens: Introductory Essays on the Study of Ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern Bronzes, Harvard Art Museum/Yale University Press (Cambridge, MA, 2014), pp. 51-52, fig. 2.8

Exhibition History

  • Gens Antiquissima Italiae: The Etruscans in Umbria, Grey Art Gallery, New York, 09/09/1991 - 11/02/1991

Subjects and Contexts

  • Ancient Bronzes

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Verification Level

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at