‘The mind of a painter should be like a mirror,’ advised Leonardo da Vinci — though in his time high-quality glass mirrors were still a luxury, even something of a novelty.
Jan van Eyck (c 1390-1441), The Arnolfini Marriage, 1434. Courtesy National Gallery, London, UK/Bridgeman Images.
Mirrors provided both practical and conceptual tools for artists. In Jan van Eyck’s Arnolfini Marriage (above), a convex mirror allows a miniature self-portrait of the artist to step into his own painting. Parmigianino’s Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror (below) is a Mannerist conundrum: the mirror both reflects and distorts, suggesting that reality can only be represented through distortion.
Parmigianino (Francesco Mazzola) (1503-40), Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror. Courtesy Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria / Ali Meyer / Bridgeman Images
Mirror images in art are often puzzling. In Edouard Manet’s Bar at the Folies-Bergère (main image at top), an otherwise invisible male customer addresses the dreamy, apparently solitary, young bartender’s more businesslike reflection. In Song Dong’s video Broken Mirror (below), a single hammer stroke destroys an entire street.
Song Dong, Broken Mirror, 1999. Video. Image copyright Song Dong, courtesy of Pace Beijing
Edouard Manet (1832-83), A Bar at the Folies-Bergere, 1881-82. © Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London, UK/Bridgeman Images
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