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.
1958 Pre-Columbian Inspiration for 1959 Tweeds. Ambassador London (August). p. 81.
Alcina Franch, José 1979 Die Kunst Des Alten Amerika. Grosse Epochen Der Weltkunst. Ars Antiqua. Herder, Freiburg. pl. 117.
Alcina Franch, José 1983 Pre-Columbian Art. Abrams, New York. pl. 117.
Benson, Elizabeth P. 1963 Handbook of the Robert Woods Bliss Collection of Pre-Columbian Art. Dumbarton Oaks, Trustees for Harvard University, Washington, D.C., p. 65, cat. 364.
Berge, Delphine 1991 Les Surréalistes Et L'amérique Précolombienne. Primitifs 4 (mai/juin). vol. 4, p. 68.
Bergh, Susan E. 2012 Inlaid and Metal Ornaments. In Wari: Lords of the Ancient Andes, Susan E. Bergh, ed., pp. 216-231. Thames & Hudson; The Cleveland Museum of Art, New York and Cleveland. p. 220, fig. 205a,b.
Bliss, Robert Woods 1957 Pre-Columbian Art: The Robert Woods Bliss Collection. Text and Critical Analyses by S. K. Lothrop, Joy Mahler and William F. Foshag. Phaidon, New York. p. 273-274, cat. 310, pl. CXXVI, CXXVII.
Bliss, Robert Woods 1959 Pre-Columbian Art: The Robert Woods Bliss Collection. 2nd ed. Text and Critical Analyses by S. K. Lothrop, Joy Mahler and William F. Foshag. Phaidon, London. p. 281-282, cat. 310, pl. CXXVI, CXXVII.
Boone, Elizabeth Hill (ED.) 1996 Andean Art at Dumbarton Oaks. Pre-Columbian Art at Dumbarton Oaks; No. 1. Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, D.C. vol. 1, p. 181-186, pl. 42.
Bruhns, Karen Olsen and Nancy L. Kelker 2010 Faking the Ancient Andes. Left Coast Press, Walnut Creek, CA. p. 151-153, fig. 7-8.
Bühl, Gudrun (ED.) 2008 Dumbarton Oaks: The Collections. Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, D.C., p. 266-7.
Christensen, Erwin O. 1955 Primitive Art. Bonanza Books, New York. p. 216.
Davies, Nigel 1997 The Ancient Kingdoms of Peru. Penguin Books, London and New York. fig. 17.
Fabbri, Dino and Nicolás J. Gibelli 1965 El Arte En América Precolombina, En África Y En Oceanía. Arte/Rama; 9. Codex, Milan and Montevideo. p. 138.
Gilbert, Rita 1997 Living with Art. 5th ed. McGraw-Hill, New York.
Howard, Cecil 1968 Pizarro and the Conquest of Peru. 1st ed. American Heritage, New York. p. 43.
Larousse Gallimard 1991? Encyclopédie Découvertes Junior. 30. Larousse Gallimard. p. 480.
Marini, Pamela 1992 Pre-Columbian Art in the Bliss Collection. Historian 55 (1):31-36. p. 34.
Petersen G, Georg 1970 Minería Y Metalurgía En El Antiguo Perú. Arqueológicas, 12. Instituto de Investigaciones Antropológicas, Lima. fig. 13.
Petersen G, Georg 2010 Mining and Metallurgy in Ancient Perú. Translated by William E. Brooks. Special Paper 467. Geological Society of America, Boulder. p. 86-87, fig. 13, Also pictured on cover.
Quilter, Jeffrey 2005 Treasures of the Andes: The Glories of Inca and Pre-Columbian South America. Duncan Baird, London. p. 117.
Ross, Alice 2001 Nature in the Abstract. Elan: for the good life in Northern Virginia May:40-43. p. 42.
Saunders, Nicholas J. 2003 "Catching the Light": Technologies of Power and Enchantment in Pre-Columbian Goldworking. In Gold and Power in Ancient Costa Rica, Panama, and Colombia: A Symposium at Dumbarton Oaks, 9 and 10 October 1999, Jeffrey Quilter and John W. Hoopes, eds., pp. 15-47. Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collections, Washington, D.C., p. 19, fig. 1.
Shady Solis, Ruth 1980 Peru During the Huari Empire. Américas 32 (2):26-31. p. 29.
Stuart, George E. 2001 Ancient Pioneers: The First Americans. National Geographic Society, Washington, D.C., p. 175
Time-Life Books 1992 Incas: Lords of Gold and Glory. Lost Civilizations. Time-Life Books, Alexandria, VA. p. 94.
Treviño de Sáenz, Herlinda (ED.) 1947 Perú Joyas, Telas, Cerámica: Colección Del Profesor Moisés Sáenz. Talleres de Xavier Gomez, México, D.F. and Sonora, D.F., p. 108-111, fig. 85, 85A.
Werness, Hope B. 1999 The Symbolism of Mirrors in Art from Ancient Times to the Present. Edwin Mellen Press, Lewiston, NY. p. 60-61.
Young, Hahonri Sharp 1983 The Golden Eye. Harper & Row, New York. p. 74.