The raised work probably celebrates an engagement or a marriage, representing a couple in Arcadia, fleeing the bustle of town life, for the garden of love. The woman in her flowing robes plays the mandolin, the symbol of harmony, the gentleman in his courtly dress, holds a bird, perhaps a hawk. The garden is evoked by apples, pears, and acorns, growing on diminutive trees. This naive approach to proportion is extended to the caterpillars, rabbits, snails and giant flowers. The fantasy is further enhanced by the combination of mythological creatures such as the unicorn with the real birds and beasts: leopards, camels, lions and parrots. These creatures may well have had symbolic meanings; the unicorn is often seen as a symbol of chastity, the cockatrice represented lust and the peacock, vanity but it is equally likely that they were purely decorative. The diligent worker could purchase models of faces and hands, made both of wood and composition, along with moulds for the fruit and the outlines of the creatures in the form of transfers. This practice no doubt facilitated working on some of the more complex areas of the raised needlework, allowing more time to be spent on experimental stitching, producing the variety of stitching and exquisite workmanship visible in this mirror frame.
A similar dome-shaped stumpwork mirror, dated on the reverse 1672, is illustrated, and its original oak travelling case mentioned, in R.W. Symonds 'English Furniture from Charles II to George II', London, 1929, p.7, fig 4 from the Percival Griffiths Collection. The same dome-shaped mirror is illustrated with its case in P. Maquoid and R. Edwards, The Dictionary of English Furniture, London, rev. ed., 1984, p. 359, fig. 5.
Further related examples can be seen in P. Macquoid, The Leverhulme Art Collections, London, 1928, vol. III, 'Needlework by P. Macquoid', pp.115-148 and L. Arther, Embroidery 1600-1700 at The Burrel Collection, Glasgow, 1995, pp. 59-74.
A closely related mid-17th Century easel mirror, without its original oak case, was sold at Phillips London, 11 February 1997, lot 51.