On pattern recognition in the mirrors

This posting on almost opposite to the previous one, in terms of time-x-space combination – it’s about the latest ‘mirror in art’ that I hit on my, literally last Friday.

I was in Ghent (where I’ve eventually seen, at last, the famous altarpiece by van Eyck… but this posting is not about this one, however, it’s not without some connection to the Lamb, either; the fact is that the recently restored van Eyck’s altar is currently on display in the St.Bova Cathedral (Sint-Baafkathedraal in Dutch), and so I), went to the cathedral, which also had crypt, where I found this altarpiece, inside a glass container. The altarpiece is by an unknown Flemish master, who is often described as Master of 1518.

Some unfortunate technical context of the shooting – it was VERY dark in the crypt, and in fact officially forbidden to take pictures (‘no flash’ is going without saying – although my Canon 5D doesn’t have any anyway; the picture above was taken by iPhone, in fact). In addition, as I said, the work was a glass cabinet, with some horrible glares. Oh, well, I got what I could.

Master of 1518 is described as a representative of the so-called Antwerp (= North) Mannerism, but to be honest, I didn’t spot that much of this style in the work – here, for instance, its central panel, Nativity).

Of course, it’s possible to point out some elements of Mannerism here, all in all this panel reveal much bigger impact of the German (then still very Gothic) schools. Later I read in Wikipedia (well, I do understand the quality of the source, but still) that “His paintings are … combining Gothic and Renaissance styles“.

But I’m less concerned with the artistic style now, the subject of the posting is about ‘pattern recognition’. And indeed, already when I saw this altar, from around ten meters or so, I already knew where I’d like to look at, and what I’d expected to see there (and why). Pattern recognition doesn’t come itself, oh, it doesn’t; many, many things should be looked at before, before the puzzle begins to assemble, as if itself.

And in this case it was “Yes, this is it!”:

In this posting I am playing (with) Instagram, and so is the look & feel (of the above fragment, too). In reality it looked a bit less dramatic – the below the left panel in full (Annunciation):

And here is the very ‘pattern’, so to speak, that thing that I after in my (re)searchers (rather indolent, it should be noted):

Due to the poor light  the quality is so-so, of course, but we can understand that what was to be shown is a convex mirror (or ‘mirror-like object’ I should add), with a reflection of some light source (a window? the Holy Spirit?) and a very characteristic rim jagged. I could also spot an attempt to make the frame more decorative, but the brush went wrong, and the trims are somewhat disjoined from the frame (doesn’t really happen with ‘true’ Mannerists, who were meticulous about such details).

But what is also clear is that – once again – want we see is no a “mirror”, at least not a a mirror in our usual sense. It wasn’t used, for instance, to quickly make a morning toilette before leaving the bed, or to channel a bit more light into the baldachin. All these functional explanations have to deemed irrelevant, and true scores revealed. How these ‘things’ had been called? Who was making them? What was the price? What were the practices surrounding them? And where are all of them now? I can’t remember seeing any of them in any museum.

My usual request is: If you happen to know any thing about these ‘shings’, cleverly masquerading as convex mirrors, but not being them, do let me know please.

Of course, and in addition to all these “practical” and “materialistic” (or rather, after learning the answers to them) I’d would also like to better understand the exact play of meanings in this “game of mirrors” that performed the masters in their paintings:

PS: Just to be complete, this is the right-hand panel, Flight into Egypt, as I understand:

I quickly looked through some other works attributed to the Master of 1518, and many of the are really interesting, although I didn’t find any more mirrors (or “mirror”), yet.




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