A bronze mirror, rare and with a great provenance, dating to either the Middle Kingdom or the early New Kingdom of Egypt (circa 2100 – 1450 BC). The disk has a slightly ellipsoidal form and is attached to the handle by a tang. The handle is in the shape of a papyrus column with foliate capital, surmounted by flaring umbels on which two falcons can be seen, supporting the mirror disk on their backs.
Mirrors were full of symbolic meaning, being related to the sun. Their shiny appearance copied that of the sun disk, as did their shape which usually is not completely circular but a bit oval, just like the sun itself (which is an oblate spheroid, especially when seen near the horizon). Falcons, sometimes seen below the disk as on our example, could represent the sun god. The handle of a mirror often also display symbols. The grip can have the shape of a divine standard or, more frequently, has the shape of a papyrus stalk or shows a depiction of the goddess Hathor; both were connected to sexuality, fertility and rebirth. The same applies to handles in the form of nude female figures.
Ancient Egyptian words to indicate a mirror illustrate this connection to the sun and resurrection clearly: "ankh" (a homonym with the word ankh, "life"), "iten" (homonym with the word iten or Aten, "sun disk") "the divine", "the Heliopolitan", "the one who is in eternity", "the one who opens the face" (the mirror revealed the face parallel to what happened during the daily ritual in the temple, where the opening up of the shrine revealed the statue of the god).
It is therefore understandable that mirrors accompanied the dead into the afterlife. They were often depicted on the inside of Middle Kingdom coffins, sometimes on the eastern panel, in front of the face of the mummy which was lying on its left side, watching the rising sun. But also real mirrors were part of the tomb equipment. Sometimes they were put between the bandages of the mummy, also as small amulets, usually of faience.
For almost identical mirrors see the British Museum London, inv. nos. EA2731 (which is dated to the Middle Kingdom) and EA32583, dating to the New Kingdom; Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, accession number 20.1790 and 20.1792 (both 2nd Intermediate Period) and 27.872 (New Kingdom); Egyptian Museum Cairo, nos. 44.027 - 44.031.
Christine Lilyquist, Ancient Egyptian Mirrors from the Earliest Times through the Middle Kingdom (Münchner Ägyptologische Studien, 27) (München und Berlin, 1979), esp. p. 46, figs. 82-86;
Constance Husson, L'offrande du miroir dans les temples égyptiens de l'époque gréco-romaine. Lyon, 1977;
Georges Bénédite, Miroirs (Catalogue Général des Antiquités Égyptiennes du Musée du Caire, Nos. 44001-44102) (Le Caire, 1907), p. 14-16 ; pls. VII-IX (no. 44.027, 44.028, 44.029, 44.030, 44.031);
Claire Evrard-Derriks, "Le miroir représenté sur les peintures et bas-reliefs égyptiens", in: Miscellanea in honorem Josephi Vergote. Edenda curaverunt P. Naster, H. De Meulenaere et J. Quaegebeur (Orientalia Lovaniensia Periodica 6/7) (Leuven, 1975-1976), p. 223-229;
Claire Derriks, Les miroirs cariatides égyptiens en bronze. Typologie, chronologie et symbolisme (Münchner Ägyptologische Studien, 51). (Mainz am Rhein, Von Zabern, 2001);
Heinrich Schäfer, "Die Ausdeutung der Spiegelplatte als Sonnenscheibe", Zeitschrift für ägyptische Sprache and Altertumskunde 68 (1932), p. 1-7;
Erik Hornung, E. und Elisabeth Staehelin, Skarabäen und andere Siegelamulette aus Basler Sammlungen (Ägyptische Denkmäler in der Schweiz, 1) (Mainz am Rhein, Von Zabern, 1976), p. 140-141;
Joachim F. Quack, "Das nackte Mädchen im Griff halten. Zur Deutung der ägyptischen Karyatidenspiegel", Die Welt des Orients 33 (2003), p. 44-64;
Léon Anlen - Roger Padiou, Les miroirs de bronze anciens. Symbolisme et tradition. Collection des auteurs et pièces de musées (Tredaniel, 1989);
Jeanne Vandier d'Abbadie, Catalogue des objets de toilette égyptiens. Musée du Louvre, Departement des antiquities égyptiennes (Paris, Éditions des musées nationaux, 1972);
Rita E. Freed, Egypt’s Golden Age. The Art of Living in the New Kingdom 1558-1085 BC (Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, 1982) p. 185-186, no. 214;
Jacques F. Aubert – Liliane Aubert, Bronzes et or égyptiens (Paris, 2001), p. 47-48; 180-184; 404-406.
Middle to Early New Kingdom, circa 2100 - 1450 B.C.
Height 18.6 cm including handle; diameter of disk 12.6 cm maximum.
Dutch private collection M.H., bought at Christie’s London, 3 July 1996, lot 231; previously anonymous private collection, bought at Sotheby's, 22 October 1934, prior to that in the collection of Mansoor Abd Essayid; this was an official of the Egyptian State Railways, Cairo, who owned an important collection of antiquities.
Intact, in very good condition overall; minor scratches; lower handle missing.