One of the most beautiful items of Celtic treasure are mirrors. These were owned by well-off ladies and were made of bronze. One side was polished brightly for the lady to see herself. The back and handle were usually decorated, with engraved lines and shapes.
Often spaces between lines were filled with 'hatching' - little marks cut into the bronze, to make an area 'darker', so the overall pattern stands out better. It is these decorations that make many Celtic mirrors great works of art.
The Celts are oft portrayed as barbarians only interested in drinking and fighting. This mirror alludes to another facet of Celtic culture: fashion and grooming. This artifact has an intricate swirling design that may have been mapped out with a compass, which is typical of La Tene art. There are several faces hidden in the design that had not been discovered until a while after its initial excavation and examination.
The level of detail certainly indicates the prestige of the owner and also sheds some light on Celtic culture. Roman historians would have us believe that the Celts were an uncultured people, however this artifact proves they also would appear to have an interest in personal hygiene and appearance. Dating to 100 BC, the mirror accentuates the social standing of women in Celtic Society, indicating that they may have had a similar role to that of Anglo Saxon women holding authority over men in certain social situations.
The Great Chesterford Mirror
The Great Chesterford Mirror, though only twenty three and one half centimeters, displays a magnificent design. This Celtic bronze mirror, much like the Old Warden Mirror from Bedfordshire, contains a design based on three-sided voids, rather than lobe patterns. Six matted shapes are located around the perimeter of the mirror. These shapes appear in different form, yet all are connected by the interwoven basket-hatching.
The artist who created this mirror included a Celtic trademark found in many other mirrors, metamorphosis. First, one bird-like image and one human image appear in the design. When holding the mirror in hand, a human face emerges near the top of the mirror. Two closed roundels form the eyes, while the nose is formed by a three-sided void. After hanging the mirror from the wall, the bird-like image pops out causing the human face to disappear. Again, a closed roundel forms the eye, while the nose is created with an elongated three-sided void.
Another Celtic trademark included in this design is tripilism. As mentioned earlier, three-sided voids dominate the mirror back. Two tiny triskeles are present, one located to the far left of the design and the other located to the far right of the mirror. These triskeles consist of three appendages. Four rosettes are present, three of these rosettes have closed roundels while one rosette is open. Tripilism is also seen in the mirror handle. Three circle-in-circle figures attach the handle to the mirror.
Nothing about his design is symmetrical, thus making it extremely unique. At first glance, many other Celtic Mirrors appear symmetrical, however, upon closer examination, the viewer notices slight asymmetry. The design on the Great Chesterford Mirror does not at all appear to have symmetry. The mirror handle, on the other hand, does have symmetry; much like handles on Celtic Mirrors.
|The Great Chesterford mirror |
1st century BCE
British Museum, London