- Bronze Etruscan mirrors were produced between the end of the sixth century and the beginning of the second century BC, and some 3,000 or even 4,000 incised mirrors survive. The mirrors are generally made of cast and beaten bronze, consisting of a slightly convex polished disk on one side. Its reflective quality was maintained by buffing. The unpolished surface is a rich source of decorative material, initially of simple border decoration, but later often of narrative scenes including mythology, with accompanying inscriptions. About half the mirrors are decorated and about 300 have inscriptions. Most inscriptions identify individuals on the mirrors, while some show dedications. Female divinities, such as Menerva and Turan (the goddess of beauty and seduction), associated with the male Atuns as well as Tinia and Hercle, are frequently depicted. There is a common association with feasting and drinking in a number of scenes. It cannot be assumed that mirrors were entirely the preserve of the female gender since at least one has a male inscription, although statistically and circumstantially mirrors are generally associated with women. Evidence from 21 cinerary urns found in Volterra associates mirrors with women, and on the eight occasions where mirrors carry inscriptions of possession, it is always a female name. Mirrors can also be employed to show distinctions in gender. In common with much of Etruscan distinctive material culture and indicated by the limited access to formal burial, the mirror is probably an indication of status. Traditional studies of mirrors found them a source of information on dress, furniture, religion, inscriptions, and mythology.More recent innovative research has investigated issues of adornment and identity. That very adornment implies an intentional manipulation of identity by the individual or under the direction of the individual (through attendants). The mirror was quite clearly associated with beautification (even seduction and eroticism) and the image thrown back by the reflection gave self-perceived identity to the owner, perhaps for the male gaze, particularly if associated with the rite of passage of marriage. In some cases, there are mirrors depicted on the engraved mirrors held by individuals gazing at their reflections, and if we add the self-scrutinizing gaze on the reflective side, the depiction of mirrors within mirrors takes on a powerful new meaning. The quantity of mirrors from the late sixth century BC seems to suggest that a preoccupation with individual identity increased considerably at this time, or at least became much more visible because of the custom of placing mirrors in tombs. This custom was also associated with other technologies and the material culture of adornment such as bone or ivory perfume dippers, alabaster, faience or ceramic perfume jars, silver or ivory cosmetics boxes, and bronze storage containers. Mirrors may have been associated with marriage and thus metaphorically reflect the common linkage of marriage and regeneration or maintenance of the descent group, even at the time of death.
Historical Dictionary of the Etruscans. Simon K. F. Stoddart.