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Identification and Creation

Object Number
Engraved Circular Hand Mirror With Animal Head Terminal
Work Type
second half 3rd century BCE
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World, Europe, Etruria
Hellenistic period, Middle
Persistent Link

Physical Descriptions

Cast, lost-wax process
24.5 x 12.7 cm (9 5/8 x 5 in.)
Technical Details

Chemical Composition: ICP-MS/AAA data from sample, Bronze:
Cu, 84.7; Sn, 14.41; Pb, 0.34; Zn, 0.01; Fe, 0.1; Ni, 0.05; Ag, 0.04; Sb, less than 0.02; As, 0.31; Bi, less than 0.025; Co, 0.042; Au, less than 0.01; Cd, less than 0.001

J. Riederer

Technical Observations: The patina is a smooth green with patches of pitting and cuprite on the obverse. A dark olive green patina—with an interesting pattern of lighter olive green and powdery encrustations—is found on the reverse. The handle is more heavily corroded, especially toward its terminal.

There is a large loss from the lower part of one side of the disc with a blind crack extending to a large area of deformation in the central area. The obverse shows an area of thick corrosion near the loss, which suggests that the loss may have been caused partially by mineralization of the metal in that area. The surface shows scratches from rough mechanical cleaning post-excavation.

The mirror was cast and then cold worked after casting for finishing and for surface designs. Finishing on the reverse included burnishing. The edge design on the obverse appears to have been done by engraving.

Carol Snow and Nina Vinogradskaya (submitted 2002)


Recorded Ownership History
Dr. Harris Kennedy, Milton, MA (by 1932), gift; to the William Hayes Fogg Art Museum, 1932.

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of Dr. Harris Kennedy, Class of 1894
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 handle of this fragmentary mirror terminates in the head of an animal, possibly a deer. On the obverse, the disc is decorated with a notched border, and the extension carries a flame design. On the reverse, the medallion shows two young men (possibly the Dioskouroi) facing one another and dressed in short tunics and Phrygian caps. A star or rosette is suspended in the field between them (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 (1932.56.37); the latter pair 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. For mirrors with similar figures, see R. De Puma, “Dioskouroi/Tinas Cliniar,” in Lexicon Iconographcum Mythologiae Classicae 3.1: 1-13; and A. Naso, I bronzi etruschi e italici del Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum (Mainz, 2003) 117-24, nos. 171-72, pl. 61.

2. 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.

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 2) 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. 59, no. 39, figs. 39a-d.

Exhibition History

  • 32Q: 3620 University Study Gallery, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 09/04/2021 - 01/02/2022

Subjects and Contexts

  • Ancient Bronzes

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Verification Level

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