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Mosaic Mirror

Wari, Middle Horizon
650-1000 CE
23.9 cm x 12 cm x 2 cm (9 7/16 in. x 4 3/4 in. x 13/16 in.)
shell, pyrite, turquoise on alder wood

On view


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Additional Image Detail of handle
Detail of handle

This mirror is one of only a few Andean objects whose surface is entirely covered in mosaic inlay. The orange, red, fuchsia, purple, and pale green inlays on the back of the mirror are all shell, as is the mother-of-pearl that lines the borders of the handle and the central pane on the mirror’s front and back sides. The stone inlays include turquoise and chalcedony. The mosaic is set onto a frame made of alder wood. The front of the mirror, not visible in this photograph, has a smooth rectangular surface made of cut pieces of pyrite.

Pre-Columbian mirrors were used mainly in ceremonial contexts, where they served to reflect and direct light. This mirror was once reportedly associated with a small copper spoon (not in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection), and its pyrite surface could have doubled as a snuff tablet for preparing mind-altering substances used to commune with the supernatural.

It is decorated with attributes of two animals often associated with deities, the feline and the serpent. The main image on the mirror’s back is a rectangular face with profile feline tear motifs on its cheeks. It is framed by two sets of serpents that emerge from the top and bottom of the face and meet on either side. The diamond pattern on the handle also simulates the skin of a serpent, and the handle ends in a modeled zoomorphic head with inlays, possibly representing a feline. These powerful predators may have been thought to be intermediaries between humans and deities. The mirror itself could have been used in rituals.

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Exhibition History
"Indigenous Art of the Americas", National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, October 1950 to July 1962.

"Wari: Lords of the Ancient Andes", The Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, OH, 10/28/12 - 1/6/13.

Outside/In: Martha Jackson Jarvis at Dumbarton Oaks, Dumbarton Oaks, Washinton DC, February 20 to Agust 19, 2018

Acquisition History
Formerly in the Moises Saenz Collection, Lima and Mexico City

Purchased from Charles L. Morley, New York (dealer), by Robert Woods Bliss, 1948.

Robert Woods Bliss Collection of Pre-Columbian Art, Washington, DC, 1948-1962.

Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Pre-Columbian Collection, Washington, DC.

Huari | Mirrors | Staff God|Staffed Deity|Staff Deity