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