Do You Know the Background of “Mirrors”?
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“Mirror, mirror on the wall,
Who’s the fairest of them all?”
The popularity of mirrors has existed since time immemorial, a mention
of these ancient artifacts being made even in fairy tales! Of course,
the earliest ones were rather crude, and had to be held by the hand. They
served dual purposes—as objects of decoration and as household objects.
The Romans were more fond of them than other Europeans! European creativity
during the Middle Ages led to hand mirrors being made of silver, as well
as polished bronze. It was not until the advent of the 1st century that
large mirrors reflecting the entire body appeared on the scene.
There was another ‘mirror revolution’ by the end of the 12th century
and the commencement of the 13th century. This time, manufacturers came
up with glass that had a metallic backing. Soon, there was no one to beat
Venetians and Germans (from Nürnberg) where quality mirror-making was
concerned. Naturally, they were also priced high; the larger the mirror,
the higher its value.
The doges or chief magistrates had created a law forbidding this art
from being publicized, but how long could the workmen stay away from temptation?
Their expert knowledge was soon passed on to the rest of the world, especially
Paris and London. Even the Royal Palace at Versailles could not resist
this play with mirrors; a profusion of them was set up in its state rooms!
Decorative art began to form a part of mirror-making from the late 17th
century onward. The frame was an important part of the mirror—people experimented
with tortoiseshell, ivory, ebony and silver. Sometimes, marquetry (Inlaid
veneers fitted together to form a design or picture) of laburnum or olive
or walnut was used. Someone came up with the idea of bead frames and needlework;
so these became popular too! The more elaborately carved the mirror frame,
the more its value as part and parcel of a complete decorative ensemble.
All sorts of themes were experimented with—placing an ornamental mirror
over the mantelpiece; placing mirrors in strategic positions to reflect
the entire room; etc. To top it all, the frames could be altered at will,
for they were more affordable than the mirrors themselves.
Another change in trend was seen towards the end of the 18th century.
Carved mirror frames were additionally painted with floral patterns. Classical
ornaments also found their way to these carvings. This time round, even
the shapes and the glass used in mirrors came in for some alterations.
There was the circular mirror with a Neo classical gilt frame that was
offered by France. This frame had the special quality of being able to
hold candlesticks. Another innovation was the full-length mirror standing
freely on a frame that had four feet. This was referred to as Cheval glass.
It came in useful for dressing purposes; rarely was it used as a decoration.
From the 19th century onwards, mirror production was taken up on a larger
scale, thus bringing their prices down. Therefore, though their place
in decorative schemes still remained, they became part of functional furniture
too. Now, you could see them on sideboards, wardrobes, etc. And this trend
has continued till today.