Published Catalogue Text: Ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern Bronzes at the Harvard Art Museums
Standing erect on a small, irregularly shaped base, this slim female figure formed the support of a now-lost mirror disc. The brace for the mirror is set on her head and worked as a unit with the flat, sickle-shaped wings rising from her shoulders. With the hands placed on the hips, the bent arms anticipate the curve of the wings and act as a crossbar to the straight lower body. Although the figure has all the qualities of a handle, it probably was originally equipped with a larger base and served as a stand.
Despite casting flaws, the caryatid was repaired and finished with traced and punched detail, most of which is restricted to the front. The figure wears a short-sleeved upper garment with a hatched collar, low belt, and oblique hem over a long, pleated chiton. The buttons along the sleeves are rendered as punched circles, and the front is decorated with rows of scales. Scales and hatching on the wings indicate feathers, punched circles embellish the border of the mirror cradle, and a zigzag ornament encircles the base. The reverse side of both the cradle and wings is plain. The wavy hair falls down the back in a cursorily rendered mass held by a fillet and subdivided into fourteen strands by vertical lines. The proper right ear is missing and indicated by an incision.
Following Egyptian models, such mirrors were first made in Laconia, where the caryatid usually took the form of a nude girl. An origin in South Italy (Magna Graecia) has been suggested for this early dressed example. However, there are no close parallels among bronzes commonly attributed to western workshops, and it may be more fruitful to emphasize those features that recall Corinthian works of the sixth century BCE: the slender body, the elongated face with slightly protruding, wide-set eyes and unsmiling mouth, and the hairstyle preserving elements of the Daedalic “wig” (1). The winged figure combines traits of anthropomorphic mirror handles with those of gorgon and sphinx vessel attachments; in fact, the arms placed akimbo and the peculiar upper garment echo depictions of gorgons (2). This caryatid has been thought to represent Nike but may also represent the goddess Artemis as mistress of animals, who is often shown winged during the Archaic period.
1. See K. Wallenstein, Korinthische Plastik des 7. und 6. Jahrhunderts vor Christus (Bonn, 1971) for a discussion of terracottas and bronzes; L. O. K. Congdon, Caryatid Mirrors of Ancient Greece (Mainz, 1981) 64-68, 131-33, 135-36, and 138, nos. 7, 9, 13, and 16, pls. 5-6, 9, 11, for mirror caryatids attributed to Corinth; and C. M. Stibbe, The Sons of Hephaistos: Aspects of the Archaic Greek Bronze Industry (Rome, 2000) 51-52, for the hairstyle.
2. Compare the gorgons on a volute krater and stand from Trebenishte assigned to a Corinthian craftsman by Stibbe 2000 (supra 1) 88-98, figs. 56-59 and 62. For another winged mirror caryatid and a figure with animals and winged boots, see Congdon 1981 (supra 1) 211-12, nos. 115-16, pls. 94-95.