In Focus

Etruscan Mirror

The following essay is from the 1996 publication Gods, Men, and Heroes: Ancient Art at the Dallas Museum of Art_._

The two figures engraved on the back of this hand mirror are juxtaposed so as to balance the composition within the circular frame. A male youth clad in a long chiton with a cloak over his left arm plays the double pipes. His cheeks are inflated, his lips puckered, and his fingers positioned on the instrument. A headband holds his hair in place. At right is a winged Lasa, one of the charmingly attractive Etruscan fantasies in the circle of Turan, who represents the Etruscan equivalent of Aphrodite. She is nude except for a simple necklace, bracelets, and sandals. The straps crisscrossing her torso may represent an unnecessary apparatus to fasten the wings to her body, a feature not generally found on the many images of Lasas on Etruscan mirrors, since the wings would be part of the spirit's form. Perhaps the wing straps on the Lasa are a conflation of visual accounts of images of the mortal Icarus, who required identical supports for his wings as seen in Etruscan art. The emphatic gesturing of the Lasa's hands, the twisting of her head to one side, and the movement expressed through her right leg indicate that she is dancing to the music performed by the attendant youth. Behind her is an open chest, which perhaps alludes to toilet items associated with the boudoir, and a woven satchel suspended above. Surrounding the figural scene is a wreath, its pattern perhaps reflective of floral designs found on South Italian red-figure vases. A frontal-faced female head with leaves, perhaps a wreath, in her hair is beneath the two figures in the transitional space between the disk and the handle. The bronze tang beneath this image would have been inserted into a handle of a different material, probably wood, bone, or ivory.

Although the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans used mirrors in daily life, the Etruscans produced hand mirrors in greater numbers; over three thousand examples of the animal style that dominates the vases are known today. Mythological characters and winged figures such as Erotes, Boreads, Sirens, Thanatos, and Hypnos are used as decorations. Prominent among the mythological scenes shown on mirrors are love stories, either with happy endings, such as that of Odysseus and Penelope, or with a tragic element, such as those of Helen and Paris, Aphrodite and Adonis, and Atlanta and Meleager. The winged Lasa was a favorite image on Etruscan mirrors (cf. Mitten and Doeringer 1967, no. 215); a Lasa in a pose similar to that on the Dallas Museum of Art mirror takes the form of a "patera" (offering pan) support and appropriately gazes into a mirror (Kozlof and Mitten 1988, no. 50). Mirrors were originally utilitarian in the hands of Etruscan women, who appreciated the romantic sagas, scenes of domestic life, and other matters of feminine concern depicted on them. Although mirrors were used by both women and men in other Mediterranean cultures, they were the property of women in ancient Etruria, where a profound symbolic significance was attached to them. Here the mirror was considered a receptacle for the soul of the person whose image was reflected on its surface. The Etruscan word hinthial means both "soul" and "reflected image." This dual concept is similar to that in ancient Egypt where the word ankh means "life" but also denotes a mirror. Many Etruscan mirrors have been retrieved from the graves of women, indicating not only their desire to take earthly possessions of value into the next world, but also that the owners did not want to leave behind the device that had contained their souls in life.

Excerpted from

Anne R. Bromberg and Karl Kilinski II, Gods, Men, and Heroes: Ancient Art at the Dallas Museum of Art. (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1996), 90.