Mirror

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This beautiful example of an Egyptian mirror exhibits some interesting characteristics. Mirrors always occupied a dominant place among the so-called “dressing-table” accessories of Ancient Egypt. These Items, not only for women but also for men, were associated with the myths of the solar cycle.

The myth of the “distant goddess” tells how, the morning after the destruction of man which the lion goddess had carried out on the orders of the god Ra, she approached the flooded fields “to see her face beautifully reflected there”. Mirrors also referenced Shen ponds (which had the round form of the Shen ring) in the marshlands, where the goddess Hathor amused herself contemplating her own reflection, and thus forgetting in this manner her terrible desire to destroy humanity.

Egyptian mirrors, with their round shape referencing the solar disk, were objects known from the Middle Kingdom. The flat, round surface made of burnished metal enabled people to see their own countenance. Handles were generally in the form of the head of Hathor, or, as in this case, in a lotus or papyrus form. It was believed that by representing the goddess Hathor, goddess of love, an erotic value was given to the mirror. At the same time, the handle in the column form of the lotus flower or papyrus stem could be related to the meaning of its hieroglyphic, “green”, as a reference to rebirth. There are other connections that can be considered: the goddess Hathor is also associated with vegetation, papyrus marshes and stalks in particular, all elements that could be associated with the rebirth of the deceased. The shape of the mirror also evoked the image of the Ankh, the cross of life. In reflecting the image of the owner, it also produced the effect of vital regeneration so much desired by the ancient Egyptians. In sum, the mirror disk and the handle are both symbols associated with rebirth.

Mirrors were found as part of the grave goods for use in the future life, in burials at the time of the Middle Kingdom. They are also drawn on walls of sarcophagi as part of the “coffin texts” where women wish to appear like Hathor. Some examples are offered to this goddess, as can be seen in reliefs in temples in the Ptolemaic Period.

The handle of this mirror is made from a high-quality ivory. There are also examples of the use of other materials for handles, alabaster, limestone, wood and bronze being the most common. While all of these were known to exist, it is not easy to find examples, as in many cases the handles of the mirrors have been lost. However, this example in question has both mirror and handle joined intact. Religious inscription or images of a god appear on some mirrors, although this is not the case with this one. This practice would indicate more a ceremonial than a daily use of the object. One should emphasise that ivory was a luxury item, and its use found its greatest expression during the Middle Kingdom. It was even the material from which very small statues of great beauty and also of the highest quality were carved. Few of these are conserved at the present time due to their extreme fragility.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

- Egypt's Golden Age: The Art of Living in the New Kingdom. Museum of Fine Arts. Boston, 1982.
- Vida en el Nilo - Antiguo Egipto. Santiago de Chile. 2016.
- PETRIE, W. F. Objects of Daily Use. British School of Archaeology in Egypt and Egyptian Research Account 30. London. 1927.
- VANDIER, J. Les Objets de Toilette Égyptiens. Musée du Louvre. Paris. 1972.

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