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Work Mirror

Department of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities: Classical Greek Art (5th-4th centuries BC)

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Mirror

© 2003 RMN / Hervé Lewandowski

Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities
Classical Greek Art (5th-4th centuries BC)

Author(s):
Astier Marie-Bénédicte

Regional styles were still prevalent in the early years of the fifth century BCE. This bronze mirror, thought to come from Thebes, is a valuable example of the work of craftsmen on the island of Egina (off the Attic coast). The disc rests on the head of a caryatid reminiscent of the Archaic korai. The hairstyle, facial features and position of the arms, however, anticipate the new aesthetic of the Severe style.

A caryatid mirror

This bronze mirror illustrates a type of object produced in abundance in Greece in the sixth century and first half of the fifth century BCE. The vogue for mirrors on pedestals was subsequently gradually replaced by mirror boxes. Unlike mirrors with handles, mirrors on stands were not intended to be held in the hand but rather placed on a table. This example, purchased in 1888, was claimed to have been discovered in Thebes in Boeotia (central Greece) six years earlier. The foot, in the form of a caryatid, is attached to the disc by a fixing tipped at each end with a flowerbud. The metal was originally polished to high sheen to obtain a reflective surface. The female figure stands on a stool with four legs terminating in horse-hoof feet.

The aesthetic of Archaic korai with Severe-style innovations

The statuette was made c.490-480 BCE, at the beginning of the period known as the Severe style. It remains reminiscent of Archaic korai, from which it borrows the hieratic, frontal pose, the distribution of weight and the garment embroidered with incised motifs. The young woman is depicted in a standing position, her legs tightly swathed in the fabric of a chiton that is belted at the waist. At the same time a number of details reflect the aesthetic canon of the new Severe style. The heavy, shoulder-length hair has here been replaced by a simpler hairstyle, consisting of two wavy swathes of hair gathered into a bun at the neck and caught up under a pearl-trimmed band crowning the head. The figure's impassive face breaks with the conventions of the sixth century BCE, and her grave expression is far removed from the welcoming smiles of the Archaic figures. The position of the arms suggests a slight movement that helps to define the figure in space. The right hand, partially preserved, probably held a flower or other attribute.

Made in an Egina workshop

The Boeotian origins of this mirror have long been considered questionable. It may have been found at Thebes, but it was almost certainly made at a workshop on Egina, an island off the Attic coast. A number of features associate it with the style of locally produced small objects, and above all with the decorative sculpture of the temple of Athena Aphaia, which dates from the same period. The stylistic treatment of the caryatid is very similar to that of the Athena on the west pediment. Like the statue of the goddess, the bronze figurine wears Ionian dress (the chiton), a feature that distinguishes it from the statuettes clad in the Dorian peplos that were common at the time in Boeotia, Argolide and the Corinth region. The foot of this mirror thus offers valuable proof of the persistence of regional styles in the first half of the fifth century BCE.

Bibliography

Walter-Karydi (E.), Die Aeginetische Bildhauerschule. Werke und schriftliche Quellen, Mainz am Rhein, 1987, pp. 108-9, fig. 170-2.
Keene Congdon (L. O.), Caryatid Mirrors of Ancient Greece, Mainz am Rhein, 1981, pp. 193-4, pl. 80.
Tölle-Kastenbein (R.), Frühklassische Peplosfiguren : Originale, Mainz am Rhein, 1980, pp. 142-3, pl. 87.
Langlotz (E.), Fruehgriechische Bildhauerschulen, 1927, pp. 30-1, n 4, pp. 34-5, pl. 18.

Technical description

  • Mirror

    Thebes, Greece

    Egina (Aegina), Greece

  • Bronze, solid-cast, incisions

    H. 40.2 cm

  • Purchased in 1888

    Br 1688

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

    Sully wing
    1st floor
    Bronzes room
    Room 32, temporarily closed to the public, works n

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