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