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Identification and Creation

Object Number
Tang Mirror with Modern Engraving and Inscription
Work Type
5th-4th century BCE or modern
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World, Europe, Etruria
Classical period
Persistent Link

Physical Descriptions

Cast, lost-wax process
18.6 x 13.9 cm (7 5/16 x 5 1/2 in.)
unspecified: 193.1 g
Technical Details

Chemical Composition: ICP-MS/AAA data from sample, Bronze:
Cu, 91.34; Sn, 8.3; Pb, 0.08; Zn, 0.016; Fe, 0.04; Ni, 0.04; Ag, 0.03; Sb, less than 0.02; As, 0.14; Bi, less than 0.025; Co, 0.019; Au, less than 0.01; Cd, less than 0.001
J. Riederer

Technical Observations: The patina consists of a powdery green and black corrosion with some blue corrosion (perhaps azurite) and tan deposits. Brownish-red corrosion can be seen in some places under the green and black. The mirror is intact. There is a slight deformation with a small crack in the handle.

There are three possibilities regarding the authenticity of this cast and engraved mirror:

1) The mirror and its engraving are both ancient.

2) The mirror and its engraving are both modern.

3) The mirror is ancient and the engraving is modern.

The highly suspect engraving is unlike any of the others examined: the engraving tool seems to have been rocked side to side, leaving a zigzag pattern rather than a smooth line with occasional tool marks. The corrosion is on top of the engraved lines, which suggests it is a later artificial (chemical) patination. The alloy was tested by J. Riederer and is a tin bronze (see Chemical Composition). This alloy does not exclude the mirror from being an ancient piece.

Carol Snow and Nina Vinogradskaya (submitted 2002)

Inscriptions and Marks
  • inscription: a modern engraving, purportedly in Etruscan, written using retrograde letters counterclockwise around the rim surrounding the central decoration.

    Transliteration: θfapulk ** auietruiusksinpuialleθ

    [R. De Puma notes that the use of the word "etruiusks" is a strong indication that the inscription is a forgery; the Etruscan word for "Etruscans" was "Rasna" or "Rasenna;" see De Puma, Corpus Speculorum Etruscorum. USA 2: Boston and Cambridge (Ames, IA, 1993) 63-64, no. 45.]

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Transfer from the 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
This circular mirror has the remains of a tang. Traces of a spiky border are evident on the disc, which bears an engraving and an inscription that are probably modern. The engraving shows a female bust and a recumbent male, and the inscribed retrograde letters θfapulk * * auietruiusksinspuialleθ are arranged in an arc.

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 (1). 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 (2). 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 (3). 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 (4). 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 (5).


1. R. De Puma, Corpus Speculorum Etruscorum. USA 2: Boston and Cambridge (Ames, IA, 1993) 59. See also 2012.1.60 for another depiction of the Dioskouroi.

2. Ibid., 61.

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

4. 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.

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

Kathryn R. Topper

Publication History

  • Richard De Puma, Corpus Speculorum Etruscorum; U.S.A.: volume 2: Boston and Cambridge, Iowa State University Press (Ames, IA, 1993), p. 63-64, no. 45, figs. 45a-c (incorrectly as McDaniel No. 9).

Subjects and Contexts

  • Ancient Bronzes

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Verification Level

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