Length: 35.000 cm
P&EE 1924 1-9 1
Room 50: Britain and Europe
Decorated bronze mirror
Iron Age, 50 BC - AD 50
From Desborough, Northamptonshire, England
A highlight of British La Tène / Celtic Art
This decorated bronze mirror is one of the finest examples of a type of Iron Age object that was exclusively made in Britain. The decoration is on the back of the mirror, while the other side would have been highly polished.
The mirror is made from three pieces - a cast handle, the main mirror plate and a tubular binding strip around the edge. The pattern is very complex: a basic clover-leaf pattern is symmetrically repeated on the left- and right-hand side of the mirror. The pattern may have been laid out using a compass. Parts of the decoration are engraved, using a graver, with a basket-weave pattern and hatched texturing to make the pattern stand out.
The earliest mirrors identified in Britain were made of iron. They had been placed in the 'cart-burials' found in East Yorkshire. They date to around 300 BC. More than 30 bronze mirrors with decorated backs have been found. Most of these date to between 75 BC and AD 50. Bronze decorated mirrors are specifically British, and do not seem ot have been made in other parts of Europe. Others examples include those from Aston, Holcombe, and St Keverne. A bronze decorated mirror has been found at Nijmegen in Holland. It was probably made in southern England and arrived in Holland through trade, as a gift, or as the personal belonging of a British person.
It is not known if this example was found in a grave or somewhere else. A number of decorated mirrors found in south-east England were placed in Late Iron Age cremation graves.
A. Shimbun, Treasures of Celtic art: a Eur (Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, 1998)
I.M. Stead, Celtic art in Britain before t (London, The British Museum Press, 1987, revised edition 1997)
S. James and V. Rigby, Britain and the Celtic Iron Ag (London, The British Museum Press, 1997)
R. Smith, 'On a late Celtic mirror found at Desborough and other mirrors of the period', Archaeologia-16, 61 (1909)