Bronze Head of a Woman

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Image courtesy of the British Museum

Today we’re looking at this female head made from bronze and filled with lead, which might have been a mirror cover. It was found in Greece and dates back to 350-330 BCE, and now belongs to the collection of the British Museum although it’s not on display.

Many ancient cultures used mirrors, and I came across mirror lids of varying styles and shapes while doing research for this post. Most of the classical ones have scenes engraved on them, so I kept this one because I found it to be more interesting, first of all in the way it’s carved. The lids that depict scenes are relatively flat with low relief engravings, whereas this one is carved in three dimensions. Also, the subject differs significantly and this one is much more related to the use of its corresponding object. Remember the water jar? This has essentially the same context  in that it’s an image of a person, featured on an object whose function is to give an image of the person. Of course, this may not be a mirror lid at all in which case this whole argument is pointless; but you can learn more about this artifact here and formulate your own opinion.

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Terracotta Hydria | Mirror Image Exhibition

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Image courtesy of the Met Museum

I’ll be starting this year with a new exhibition called Mirror Image. It will deal both with the concept of symmetry and the idea of art in art, and  superimposing representations, as is shown in this vessel.

First things first, a hydria is a classical Greek pottery shape used for carrying water. This one is exhibited at the Met museum and dates back to around 500-510 BCE. It has a black-figure depiction of women filling their own hydriai at the fountain. This isn’t a rare thematic in Greek vessels. In fact, I know of two other hydriai with women at the fountain with hydriai depictions, one is at the Louvre and one at the Ashmolean. The practice becomes quite popular in the 6th century BCE

But this is what inspired me for this exhibition. I think it’s really cool the have pots depicted on pots, although it is not exceptional. Basically this vessel is saying “I’m a water vessel”. It’s like an early example of labeling. I think we’ll find through the exhibition that with time, depictions or references to the artist or object in art become more and more conscious and intentional.

Back to Greek pots though, if you’re interested in how black and red figure is achieved. This is one of the first thing you learn in art history/archaeology courses so there’s my time to brag about it. So the colors aren’t achieved through paint but by oxidation of the clay. The black parts were covered with a slip that turned black in one of the stages of firing. So essentially, while the vessel was being made, it was all the same color, then it was fired with low oxygen so that it turned entirely black. Then air was reintroduced slowly to turn the non-slipped parts back to orange. So basically the Greeks nailed firing. You can learn more here and there’s also many scholarly articles about it if you just browse academia.