Celtic mirrors display a variety of ornamental design. Variations exist in these designs, yet, each composition has a similar purpose: to play an aesthetic, non narrative role. The actual compositions of many Celtic Mirrors contain a large amount of ambiguity further complicating the true purpose of the mirror. Does the mirror have another function? One other than simply providing a reflection?
Amazingly, these mirrors are insular, therefore, the decoration did not travel to the main continent. These highly decorated mirrors arose in Britain, and for the most part, remained in Britain. With many other art forms receiving influence from Roman art, Celtic Mirror artisans were not influenced by Roman Mirrors. Roman mirrors contain more figural decorations rather than purely decorative designs, like Celtic Mirrors.
The Aston Mirror displays elements of shape-shifting and trilliums as well as metamorphosis. It is based on the circles, three smaller circles suspended inside three larger circles. Many Celtic mirror designs display highly elaborate decoration; however, the Aston Mirror is rather simple in decor. This simplicity does not eliminate an important Celtic feature, one of asymmetry. The circle furthest from the handle is slightly off center.
According to Ruth and Vincent Megaw, the negative space in the design is just as important as the “changing interplay — the light and shade of smooth and matted areas”. In other words, the Celts may not have thought the Aston Mirror was simple in its decoration. This simplicity allows the viewer to focus upon the metamorphosis of a human face and a bird and the concept of trilliums. By showing these abstract ideas, the Aston Mirror is “elaborately” decorated in its own way.
Just like the Desborough Mirror, the Aston Mirror distinctly displays metamorphosis. When held upside down, with the handle above the mirror, the two elliptical shapes close to each other become the eyes of the face. This mirror may, at first appear basic, yet at another glance, notice the pupils of the eyes. This small detail helps to create a metamorphosis, thus allowing the “mirror” to watch every action in the room. A human face is not the only thing “seen” in this mirror. A bird, whose head is the right ellipse and body is the large bulbous circle at the bottom, is also visible. As a result of this ambiguity, one may question whether or not a face or a bird was spotted in such a simply decorated mirror. This, according to Dr. Jacobsthal, is a special Celtic trademark.
Basketry hatching, a popular Celtic technique, was used to create this simple pattern. Outlining the decoration on the mirror is series of hatch marks creating a braided effect. Professionals claim the design was created by a craftsman with “limited technical ability”. This, combined with less than perfect tools, created an extraordinary mirror. When compared with the Mayer Mirror, the Aston Mirror does show lower craftsmanship. The artisan delicately engraved the bronze using a tool with a straight edge, and subsequently, created “irregular oblong basketry”.
The Aston Mirror was probably placed in a Late Iron Age cremation grave, but the grave was destroyed by ploughing. The main part of the mirror was found by a farmer, in Aston, Hertfordshire; the handle found the following year.
- Fox, Sir Cyril (1958) Pattern and Purpose: A Survey of Early Celtic Art in Britain. Cardiff: The National Museum of Wales.
- Megaw, Ruth and Vincent (1996) Early Celtic Art in Britain and Ireland. Aylesbury: Shire Publications, Limited.
- Stead, Ian and Karen Hughes (1997) Early Celtic Designs. London: British Museum Press.
- Cunliffe, Barry (1995) Book of Iron Age Britain. London: BT Batsford Limited.
- Desborough Mirror (http://www.unc.edu/celtic/catalogue/mirrors/)