Mirrors… or not? Chasing the lost meaning of Oculi Domini

Perhaps as a way of New Year present to myself, I have decided to compile in one place all those (pseudo)mirrors, or ‘mirror thingies’ I’ve been writing during the last two years or so. This collection does not add anything new to the subject, and mostly is an experiment with a new format – this time I am putting it on Issuu, where I hope more people would bump into it, learn the story, and perhaps send a word or two of helpful feedback.

I will also copy here the introductory text summarizing my thoughts so far.

Mirrors… or not? is a presentation of a puzzle. And the solution too, or at least a hypothesis, the one that requires to be proven or not – or may lead to the new puzzles.

I started my explorations into ‘mirrors in art ‘, the history of depiction of mirrors in artworks already some years ago. When doing do, I inevitably encountered the famous medieval/renaissance ‘mirrors’, the ones painted by Jan van Eyck, Robert Campin, and other famous masters.

Following conventional frameworks, I wrote a line or two about these mirrors, on what they may reflect and/or symbolize. I also enjoyed discovering the lesser known mirrors, in various old paintings and altarpieces, and in manuscripts.

Increasingly, however, I started to realize that the objects we eagerly call ‘mirrors’ are, perhaps, not them. The way they’ve been placed in these works, and the very content/context of their depiction lead me to a conclusion that these ‘things’ were unlikely the ‘mirrors’ in our contemporary sense.

What a puzzle.

I am still in search of the answer to the question of what exactly are these objects, or ‘things’ (or devices?) How they’d been called back then? What were the rules and rituals surrounding them? Both of production, and of the usage?

My current hypothesis is that these objects were a sort of sacral emblems, or tokens, bearing a complex meaning – of the divine purity in general, and of immaculate nature of Saint Mary in particular, but also symbolizing marriage, both earthly and heavenly.

I also think there was another meaning assigned to them, too. Perhaps, the very material qualities of the new technology (convex glass/mirror) allowed an interesting semantic appropriation and subsequent use of these objects as the representations of the ‘God’s Eye’, Oculi Domini.

The following pages present a few examples of such ‘objects’. Without any exception, all the mirror-like objects depicted in these works are currently described as ‘mirrors’ — the situation I am planning to change. I argue that they are not ‘mirrors’ (or at least not mirrors in the first place).

The purpose of this collection of the art works with (pseudo) mirrors is to attract more attention to this intriguing issue and invite for more debates and further explorations.

Please do write me if you have more questions or have additional materials related to these ‘things’ – art.mirrors.art@gmail.com


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