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The Eye of the Mirror: Sight and Subjectivity in Classical Greek Art

This lecture takes its cue from a particular type of ancient Greek object: a folding ‘case-‘ or ‘box-mirror’ (‘Klappspiegel’ in German). Over 300 such mirrors survive, mostly dating from the early fourth to mid-third centuries BC. They consist of two circular bronze parts, joined together with a hinge. Within was a disk, polished on one side; the outer layer formed a protective case around it, usually decorated in relief.

Classical archaeologists have classified Classical Greek box-mirrors. But they’ve been less interested in how these objects embody larger philosophical debates about vision, perception and replication. Starting with one particular example, the lecture demonstrates the deeply self-reflexive way that box-mirrors could interrogate the production of mimetic imagery – especially the dynamic relationship between three-dimensional outer relief and inner reflective surface. As a corpus, Classical box-mirrors materialise thinking about what it means to see. But their speculations also reflect a profound transformation in sight and subjectivity, in turn pivotal to the entire subsequent western tradition of theorising and making images: they hold up a mirror to the interplay between object viewed and viewing subject.

Speaker's Bio: Professor Michael Squire

Professor Michael Squire is Laurence Professor of Classical Archaeology and Senior Research Fellow at Trinity College, Cambridge. From 2011 to 2022 he taught in the Department of Classics at King’s College London. His research interests include Graeco-Roman art and its reception, the interaction between ancient literary and visual cultures and the history of western aesthetics (especially in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Germany). He was elected Fellow of the British Academy in 2022.

At this event

Gonda Van Steen

Koraes Chair of Modern Greek and Byzantine History, Language and Literature. Director, Centre for Hellenic Studies

Event details

Bush House 8th Floor
Strand Campus
Strand, London, WC2R 2LS