The Egyptians cared about their appearance a great deal. The women spent a lot of time bathing, rubbing oils and perfumes into their skin, and using their many cosmetic implements to apply make-up and style their wigs. Using a highly-polished bronze hand mirror, a woman would apply khol, a black dye kept in a jar or pot, to line her eyes and eyebrows, using a “brush” or “pencil” made of a reed.
Some Egyptians wore red ochre henna (the powdered leaves of the plant ) on their lips and cheeks to look nice. They even had a special oil so when you went out in the sun your skin wouldn’t burn and crack. Some people wore heavy eyeshadow.
Because of their love for makeup, the mirrors were very popular in ancient Egypt. The Egyptian Mirrors in were made by beating a lump of bronze until it was as thin as a sheet of cardboard. Then it was polished to make it shiny enough to reflect the light back from your face. Sometimes these mirrors had handles made out of bone or ivory.
Development and Uses of Egyptian Mirrors
In ancient Egypt, mirrors took the form of highly polished metal discs, usually of bronze. Besides being functional, mirrors developed religious and funerary uses. Their circular shape, brightness, and reflective quality suggested to the Egyptians the face of the sun and its life-giving powers and thus the mirror became a symbol of regeneration and vitality.
The religious aspect is highlighted in the motifs used to decorate the handles. The papyrus plant, which figures frequently, is another symbol of vitality, as is the head of Hathor, a goddess of fertility and beauty. Metallic mirrors may have been restricted to the more well-to-do. For the poor, a reflection in water had to suffice.
The handle of the mirror was of wood, metal or ivory. A papyrus stalk or the figure of Hathor was also common. The handle could also be surmounted by the head of Hathor. She was particularly associated with the mirror, which had connotations of sexuality and rebirth.
An ancient Egyptian mirror from Buhen, temple area in the Middle Kingdom for the New Kingdom, Eighteenth Dynasty, 1400 B.C. is present in the Khartoum, National Museum. The small female figure which forms the handle wears a conical headdress into which the mirror’s disk is inserted.
She holds a small cat in her raised left hand. Earrings of gold probably once filled the holes drilled in the earlobes. The mirror was most likely dedicated as a votive offering in the temple of Buhen.