Mirror with handle in the form of a nude female carrying a cat - ROM2004_1039_6


Mirror with handle in the form of a nude female carrying a cat

Medium:Bronze, cast
Geography: Undetermined site, Egypt
Date: c. 1390-1213 BC
Period: Late 18th to early 19th Dynasty, New Kingdom
11.5 x 12.6 cm
Object number: 911.42
On view
Gallery Location:Galleries of Africa: Egypt

The ancient Egyptians devoted considerable effort and expense to their appearance. They were meticulous about grooming and regarded it as an enhancement of natural beauty. Tweezers and razors accompanied the dead to ensure the removal of unwanted hair in the afterlife; master wig-makers created products as fine as today. Perfumed ointments were rubbed on the body after it was scrubbed clean with natron salt. Mirrors were used to apply make-up, including the black eye-liner used liberally and the red ochre painted to lips.

This charming New Kingdom (1550-1069 BC) bronze mirror is one of several surviving examples. The handle features a young naked woman holding a kitten in her right hand. Other examples may substitute a bird for the kitten.  Mirrors like this were in fashion among the upper class during the Eighteenth Dynasty.

The disk is reminiscent of the slightly flattened shape of the rising and setting sun, a symbol of regeneration.  The papyrus umbral above the girl's head is likewise an image of fertility, and the young girl herself speaks of grace, pleasure, and procreation.  Such mirrors were not simply or entirely household objects, but also carried connotations of the goddess Hathor, and associated the owner with that goddess of beauty and love. 

Bronze disks can be highly polished to produce a good reflective surface for a mirror.  Silver, which gives a better reflection, was an expensive import into Egypt and therefore its use in mirrors was restricted to only the very wealthy. Images of mirrors are often found in tombs, and pictures of the mirrors appear under the seats of women, or in their hands. The name for mirror shared the sound 'ankh' with the word for life, perhaps because a living image appears in it.

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