Published Catalogue Text: Ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern Bronzes at the Harvard Art Museums
This bronze mirror has a worn beaded border and a handle that terminates in a ram’s head. The part of the handle above the ram is modeled as a griffin. The disc is perforated with nine holes that seem to result from ten attempts at perforation; two indentations near the center of the disc may represent failed attempts at perforation. On the obverse, the top of the handle is decorated with a floral pattern. The reverse of the disc bears three figures standing before an Ionic façade. The central figure, who wears a peplos and helmet, is probably Athena (Etruscan Menrva); the other figures, a male and a female, are more difficult to identify (1). The male figure on the left, wearing a short tunic and boots, leans on a club that is similar to the one often carried by Herakles, but it is unusual for the hero to be shown clothed (2). The figure on the right is an unidentified woman wearing a peplos and Phrygian cap. A spiky garland borders the disc, and the mirror has been designated as an example of the Spiky Garland Group, named after this feature (3).
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 (4). 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 (5).
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 (6). 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 (7).
1. For possible identification of the figures, see R. De Puma, Corpus Speculorum Etruscorum. USA 2: Boston and Cambridge (Ames, IA, 1993) 61-63, no. 44. He notes that the club of the male figure may indicate that Paris is represented and that if three rather than two female figures were represented, then the scene could be identified as the Judgement of Paris. As there are only two female figures, this identification is uncertain.
2. Ibid., 62; and id. in Antichità dall’Umbria a New York, exh. cat., ed. L. Bonfante and F. Roncalli (Perugia, 1991) 288.
3. See L. Bonfante, “An Etruscan Mirror with ‘Spiky Garland’ in the Getty Museum,” J. Paul Getty Museum Journal 8 (1980) 147-54.
4. 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.
5. Ibid., 61.
6. 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.
7. De Puma 1993 (supra 1) 63-64.
Kathryn R. Topper