The earliest mirrors come from Egypt and surrounding countries, from as early as 2289 BC. Three of the mirrors in Freud’s collection, however, were produced much later in ancient Italy, around 300 BC.
By the time this mirror was produced it was common for them to be engraved on their reverses, often with mythological scenes. Mirrors were a status symbol for Etruscan women. Many have been found in graves, suggesting that while mirrors were used in daily life, they were also believed to have served a role after death; perhaps by symbolically carrying an image of the deceased into the afterlife.
The image of two naked women bathing at a basin on this mirror is surprising. Why would women commonly own mirrors decorated with images of naked women? Mirrors were arguably a way of enforcing cultural norms within the home, using visual iconography. In this case they reinforce the perceived duty of women in Etruscan society to be beautiful. This typical scene also reflects the use of mirrors and their link to adornment, reflection and self-image. The scene is framed by ivy leaves, often used in Etruscan design. Ivy was used to make wreaths used by rulers and represented in jewellery, with connotations of beauty and power.
There are four mirrors in the Freud Museum collection. Sigmund Freud sought antiquities with links to mythology. He liked small objects as these were less expensive, and perfect for gifts or swapping.
We have little documentation about these mirrors so can only speculate how Freud acquired them. We know that one mirror belonged to Anna Freud rather than Sigmund, and was a gift from her sister-in-law Lucie Freud – it has a label on the back with the words, ’Many Happy Returns of the Day to Anna From Lux’.
Etruscan mirrors, like the one above, were often decorated in scenes involving the goddess of love. This was Turan in Etruscan mythology, whose Greek equivalent was Aphrodite and Roman equivalent, Venus. The verso of these mirrors was of course undecorated and highly polished to reflect the image of its owner.
This mirror above is the oldest in the collection. It is clearly different in style to the later Etruscan examples. It has no engraving and is made of a more solid sheet metal. The handle is in the shape of a papyrus stem, adopted as a pattern on architecture, painted scenes and objects. The papyrus stem hieroglyph, one of the oldest hieroglyphs from Ancient Egypt, is used for the colour green and for vigour or youth, both of which are relevant to this mirror.