Classical World, Italy, Etruria, ca. 6th to 1st century BCE. An incredible example of a bronze mirror with a decorated back depicting a low-relief siren in the center, surrounded by a ring of animals chasing each other around the siren. The animals include two geese, a lion, a sphinx, and two ibexes. Around them is another narrow ring, this one with incised concentric circles, often seen as wards against the evil eye, and each interspersed with deep convex circles that were probably once inlaid with precious metals or stones. The mirror's handle is a woman, standing with her arms raised; her hands hold round spirals that look like swirling galaxies. The woman's upper body is artfully conveyed with incised lines forming spiral-shaped breasts, hair that flows out behind her head and neck, and necklaces and armlets. The handle would have extended further below the body than is currently present, probably tapering to a narrow point. Size: 3.8" W x 5.05" H (9.7 cm x 12.8 cm); 7.45" H (18.9 cm) on included custom stand.
Sirens (seirenes) were sea-nymphs who lured sailors to their death by singing a bewitching song. They began life as handmaidens of a goddess, given the bodies of birds by Demeter when her daughter Persephone was kidnapped by Hades so that they could search for her; they later appear singing their song to the sailors traveling with the Argonauts and then Odysseus, both times trying to lure the heroic men to their deaths. Some researchers see sirens as symbols of male panic over the sexual power of women.
The Etruscans made thousands of bronze mirrors, which they called malena or malstria, polishing one side to a highly reflective surface and then decorating the other side with meaningful subjects, often Greek myths like the Siren depicted here. Many mirrors have names inscribed on their edges, and most of those names are women's, indicating that Etruscan women were literate. The choice of Siren is an interesting one on this mirror, as most scenes we see on Etruscan mirrors depict famously beautiful people like Paris, Aphrodite, and Helen of Troy. Imagine what kind of person would have chosen a Siren motif instead of the obvious - perhaps a woman with a sly sense of humor.
Provenance: private East Coast, USA collection
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