This is an online event.
Sponsored by: Archaeological Institute of America
Normative concepts about gender were communicated in the Etruscan domestic sphere, specifically in aristocratic households, through narratives that decorated the reverses of engraved bronze mirrors. These artifacts were more than just expensive luxury items and grooming implements; rather, they also functioned as a form of communication in the private sphere, thereby providing scholars with a critical body of evidence about the elite’s gender ideologies, social expectations and cultural values. Exercising agency, engravers and their patrons gravitated toward stories from the Hellenic repertoire that were relevant both to their lives and the ideologies that underscored the cornerstones of aristocratic Etruscan society. In this lecture, I focus on scenes that communicated elite expectations about motherhood, a subject popular in mirror iconography from the fifth through third centuries BCE. Two themes prevail, one proclaiming the intimate bond between mothers and their children during life and/or in the aftermath of tragedy, and the second focusing on moments rife with hostility and violence, where mothers exhibit behaviors that transgress established ideals. By comparing and contrasting these narratives – all directed to an educated clientele – we can better understand the different types of exempla offered up for reflection on a daily basis. More specifically, the representations from the fourth century reveal a particular focus on procreative women who had given birth to male children, thereby highlighting the centrality of the male line in contemporary families’ ancestries and lineages. Through this privileging of boys over girls, mirror iconography exposes the gender stereotypes in circulation at this time.
Bonfante, L. 2013. “Mothers and Children.” In The Etruscan World, edited by J. M. Turfa, 426–446. London.
Carpino, A. 2011. “Killing Klytaimnestra: Matricide Myths on Etruscan Bronze Mirrors.” Etruscan Studies 14: 3–37.
van der Meer, L.B. 1995. Interpretatio Etrusca: Greek Myths on Etruscan Mirrors. Amsterdam: J.C. Gieben.