Reflections on Beauty and Ugliness: An Exceptional Archaic Greek Mirror at the Getty

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This paper consists of a focused, formal, and iconographic analysis of a unique Late Archaic bronze hand mirror said to originate in Magna Graecia, now in the Getty Museum. Of particular interest is the way the object fuses and juxtaposes two semantically dense and interrelated devices from the ancient Greek world: the mirror and the severed head of the Medusa (gorgoneion). While gorgoneia are generally encountered as ornaments on Greek mirrors, the Getty example is the only extant case in which Medusa’s head occupies the entire backside of the mirror, effectively functioning as a Janus-faced counterpart to the user’s face reflected in the disc. Scholars tend to explain the significance of gorgoneia on objects like the Getty mirror with reference to apotropaic and/or humorous effects. Yet Fowler proposes that the mirror’s incorporation of the gorgoneion may be appreciated on deeper conceptual and phenomenological levels: as a visual “comment” on the nature of the image (representational and reflected) and of (female) beauty and ugliness, which is accomplished by, and experienced through, using the object. Close examination of the Getty mirror thus offers critical insights into the complex interplay between gender, aesthetics, image-making, and visual experience in ancient Greek culture.


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