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Identification and Creation

Object Number
Mirror Depicting the Judgement of Paris
Other Titles
Alternate Title: Mirror with Repoussé Decoration Depicting Minerva, Proserpina and Venus
Work Type
2nd century CE
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World, Europe
Roman Imperial period, Middle
Persistent Link

Physical Descriptions

Mirror side: Leaded bronze; Decorated side: Mixed copper alloy, gilded
13.2 x 0.5 cm (5 3/16 x 3/16 in.)
Technical Details

Chemical Composition: Gilt relief decoration
XRF data from Tracer
Alloy: Mixed Copper Alloy
Alloying Elements: copper, tin, lead, zinc
Other Elements: iron, gold
Comments: Traces of gold from gilding are present on the object.

Mirror side
XRF data from Tracer
Alloy: Leaded Bronze
Alloying Elements: copper, tin, lead
Other Elements: iron

K. Eremin, January 2014

Technical Observations: The patina is black and brown in the area where the gilding is worn. The mirror surface remains clean and polished in most areas, although black and green spots have formed in several areas, and brown accretions are present. Losses at the edges of the gilded sheet are filled and inpainted. Several corrosion blisters are present on the mirror surface.

Henry Lie (submitted 2001)


Recorded Ownership History
From the collection of Max Falk, who purchased it from Albrecht Neuhaus, a German art dealer, in the early 1970s. Previously in the collection of J. J. Klejman, New York.

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of Max Falk in memory of Joseph Ternbach
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
One side of this mirror bears gilt repoussé decoration depicting three female figures. At left stands Minerva (Athena); her head is in profile to the right, and her torso is in three-quarter view. Her right arm is akimbo, while her left arm is bent and rests on the top of a circular shield. Her Corinthian helmet has a long crest, and she wears a peplos that is fastened at the shoulders and belted at the waist. The drapery clings to her legs. There is a curved form in the field above her left arm, and below the shield is a low column or altar. In the center of the disc, a half-draped woman is seated on a rock; she is facing right, and her torso is depicted in three-quarter view. She holds her right arm down at her side, hand behind her back, while her left arm is extended; a basket hangs from her elbow. Her hair is arranged in a bun and decorated by a diadem; a cloth is loosely draped over her thighs. The third woman stands at the right, with her head in profile to the left. Her body is frontal and forms a pronounced S-curve; she leans on a square column with her bent left arm. Her right arm is extended slightly toward the basket held by the seated woman. Her hair is pulled into a roll on the top of her head and possibly wrapped in a cloth. She wears an ankle-length, one-shouldered garment across her right shoulder that dips down on her torso to expose her left breast. Behind the figures, in lower relief, is a tree with leaves and fruit. A branch or weapon, a basket, and a mirror are depicted below the groundline; the objects seem to be paired with the women above them. Surrounding the scene are two raised bands. In the strip between the bands, olives, olive leaves, and what may be bunches of grain are depicted. The mirror surface is fairly well preserved on the reverse, with some minor chipping and dirt accretions.

The interpretation of the woman on the left as Minerva is clear from her clothing. The woman on the right is most likely to be Venus (Aphrodite) due to her clinging drapery and the mirror in the field below her. The figure in the center could be interpreted as Proserpina (Persephone/Kore) due to the bundles of wheat (1). This combination of figures would suggest that the scene depicts the moments prior to Proserpina’s abduction by Pluto (Hades) (2).


1. See G. Zahlhaas, Römische Reliefspiegel, Kataloge der Prähistorischen Staatssammlung 17 (Kallmünz, 1975) 19-24 and 73-74, nos. 5-8 (no. 7 is this example), pls. 5-8. Although identifying the central figure as Proserpina as well, a recent article suggests that the figure standing at right is Diana (Artemis) or Bendis rather than Venus (Aphrodite); see S. Conrad and D. Stančev, “Ein römischer Reliefspiegel im Historischen Museum Ruse,” in Kontaktzone Balkan: Beiträge des internationalen Kolloquiums “Die Donau-Balkan-Region als Kontaktzone zwischen Ost-West und Nord-Süd” vom 16.-18. Mai 2012 in Frankfurt a. M., ed. Gerda von Bülow (Bonn, 2015) 165-72, esp. 170-71, no. 3, fig. 5.

2. Ibid. For an alternative interpretation of the central figure as Juno (Hera) and the entire scene as a partial depiction of the Judgment of Paris, see A. Cohen, “‘Mistress’ Bronzes from the Classical World,” in Teaching with Objects: The Curatorial Legacy of David Gordon Mitten, ed. A. Brauer (Cambridge, MA, 2010) 76-91, esp. 76-83, fig. 1.

Lisa M. Anderson

Publication History

  • Gisela Zahlhaas, Römische Reliefspiegel, M. Lassleben (Kallmünz, 1975), p. 24.
  • Michail Yu Treister and M. I. Zolotarev, "Moulds for Casting of Matrices for Roman Relief Mirrors from Chersonessus", Bronces y Religion Romana: Actas del XI Congreso Internacional de Bronces Antiguos, Madrid, Mayo-Junio 1990, ed. J. Arce and F. Burkhalter, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas (Madrid, 1993), 429-48, p. 430, fig. 5.
  • [Reproduction only], Gazette des Beaux-Arts, (March 1994)., p. 44, no. 193.
  • Ada Cohen, "'Mistress' Bronzes from the Classical World", Teaching with Objects: The Curatorial Legacy of David Gordon Mitten, ed. Amy Brauer, Harvard Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2010), pp. 76-91, Fig. 1
  • Sven Conrad and Dimităr Stančev, "Ein römischer Reliefspiegel im Historischen Museum Ruse", Kontaktzone Balkan: Beiträge des internationalen Kolloquiums “Die Donau-Balkan-Region als Kontaktzone zwischen Ost-West und Nord-Süd” vom 16.-18. Mai 2012 in Frankfurt a.M., ed. Gerda von Bülow, Dr. Rudolf Habelt GmbH (Bonn, 2015), 165-72, pp. 167-71, cat. no. 3, fig. 5

Exhibition History

  • Roman Gallery Installation (long-term), Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, 09/16/1999 - 01/20/2008
  • 32Q: 3620 University Study Gallery, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 01/22/2022 - 05/08/2022

Subjects and Contexts

  • Roman Domestic Art
  • Ancient Bronzes

Related Works

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