± 1001 Virgins, or The (alleged) Mirror of Annunciation

The ‘patient’ mirror by Bernaert van Orley that I told about in the previous posting was quite unusual. I haven’t seen too many examples of the mirrors in such context, of a sick or dying person, before. At least, I haven’t seen it in paintings, wuth the closest example that I could recall bing the mirrors from the manuscript Mystère de la Vengeance. 
Another remarkably interesting mirror by the same master, the one that we find in the scene of the birth of John the Baptist could be also assign to the same category, of course, with some reservations (meaning that I don’t want to call pregnancy a ‘disease’, of course, but we know that after giving birth many women do not feel well and require at least good rest and support).  And we see this all on the panel.
When I found these two works with mirrors (or rather with ‘mirrors’), I decided to also check if Bernaert van Orley also depicted them in other scenes. My earlier experience shows that it is always check Annunciation, the scenes where I regular find these ‘mirrors’. 
And indeed, the picture above is a detail of a panel that depicts Annunciation and that was recently attributed to Bernaert van Orley (it was previously described as ‘anonymous Flemish master).
I could as well simply talk about this work (and I will). But then, and using this occasion I decided to compile a few more examples of the scenes of the Annunciation (and specifically those that depict mirrors). Once again, I will try to show that these ‘mirrors’ not really mirrors at all.  
I called the overview ‘1001 Virgins’. Well, I can’t promise so many, but their number per posting this time will be significantly higher than the average for this blog 🙂

To start with, this is above panel in full 
As always with van Orley, the panel is extremely decorative and refined, we see a large number of astonishingly accurately drawn detail, especially architectural ones.  Interestingly, the scene itself is happening in a public place of some kind (this was more common for the early Italian masters). And yet we see the Mary’s bedroom in a background. That’s where we also see this mirror/non-mirror I was describing many other works before:

We clearly see that it’s a glass convex mirror, embedded on a richly decorative frame. Unfortunately, the copy that I have so far is not large enough to look closer at this object, I can’t say much more about it at the moment.  The panel is currently in the Fitzwilliam Museum of the University of Cambridge (website), and it’s fairly big (± 55 x 70 cm), so in principle there should be a way to get a larger image of the mirror itself.

It is believed to be made circa 1517.

The panel became the third mirror by van Orley that I found, and I keep searching for more mirror-works of this Northern Raphael, as he is often called. During my search I found another panel depicting the Annunciation, apparently from the National Gallery in London (?), c. 1518:

This is a much more intimate, homey depiction of the scene, and it doesn’t have any mirrors.  The dove, however, has been placed very expressively in the very place where one would expect to see this “mirror”. There is an inevitable suspicion that the author wanted to play with us a visual joke of some sort, as if inviting us to move this dove aside, to see the ‘mirror’ hanging on its place.
It is in this moment I decided to compile few more examples of this scene created by the Flemish masters, the genre known as iconography. Of course, and in no way this is a complete list, and it is not aimed to become a truly iconographic work.   Rather it is a small collection, to situate the ‘Mirror Annunciations’ that I find in a somewhat broader context.  
I’d like to start this Virginal Procession from Dieric Bouts. His Annunciation circa 1470 clearly has no mirrors (and in general it is beautifully ascetic, similar to many of his works):

(I’d like to note here that I didn’t find any mirrors in other works of this Flemish master either, at least not yet).

There are no mirrors on this panel by the anonymous Flemish master (c.1460), too. There are no doves on this work, either, although we find many of the typical elements of this scene here: the bed (never unmade, by the way), Mary’s table with a book etc.

Here is an interesting work, attributed to the Master of the Virgin Among Virgins (c.1500):

Here comes a dove, but very small, timid and shy yet. And as if to support him a small angel messenger is also sent from the Heaven.

I guess that with time the dove was becoming larger, as in this central panel of the altar of the Annunciation, also by an unknown Flemish master (c.1490).

Jacob Cornelisz van Oostsanen gives the dove a characteristic glowing halo (Annunciation, c. 1508):

This particular panel has more interesting things depicted. I will copy here the description from the website of the Indianapolis Museum of Art:

“In this unusual nocturnal Annunciation, the Archangel Gabriel pulls back the curtain of a small oratory where the Virgin Mary kneels in prayer before a golden shrine containing an image of Moses. Gabriel’s red and gold banner is inscribed with the first words of the angelic salutation: “Hail, full of Grace.” At the window, a multitude of tiny figures bear witness to the initial mystery in Christian history, when the Old Law of Moses is superseded by the New Law and Christ’s promise of salvation.”

In the Annunciation (c.1483) of the so-called Master of the Legend of Saint Ursula the dove already flies into the space of bed, but somewhat timidly:

A similar uncertainty is also visible in the Annunciation by Gerard David (c.1490):

Later, c. 1506, David painted another version of the Annunciation scene, composed of the two separate panels, where the dove is already shining in full (yet I can’t spot any mirror here):

In the later works not only the dove is gleaming, but almost everything around Mary is shining in this scene of Annunciation, attributed to Simon Bening (c.1525):

Sometimes the splendor of the moment was expressed differently, for example, by the presence of the whole group of angelic support, as in this panel by Hans Memling (c.1480):

Here the dove doesn’t really cover any ‘mirror’, at least there is nothing ‘behind’ his halo. At the same time this image may be hinting at one of the possible meanings of these ‘mirror-thingies’. They could be symbolic replacements of these shining messengers from the God.

Sometimes the masters depicted Annunciation a number of time, and we can see the evolution of the personal iconography, like in the case of Rogier van der Weyden.  In one of his earlier works (c.1465) the Mary’s bed is made tidy, similar to the one of Bouts, and we also don’t see the dove here:

In another work (c. 1455) the dove appears from the window. We don see any ‘mirror’ yet, but there is a rich embroidery on the bed’s cloth, which is actually full of all sorts of meanings. (I don’t want to venture into this topic now, because I am currently preparing a separate posting on this subject, and it’s too big a theme to put into this one). Notice, though, how complex was the ‘ropework’ that was supporting a baldachin of the bed.

On the most famous Annunciation by van der Weyden (c. 1434) we actually see ‘something’ in the Mary’s bed. Although it’s not a mirror, this object could in fact reveal what these ‘non-mirrors’ were replacing later on:

As I said, it’s not a mirror, but a sacred medallion, or an icon of some sort. Despite it is one of the most famous works by Rogier van der Weyden, currently in Louvre, for a while I wasn’t be able to find a better copy of this medallion. The best of what I had looked like that:


Finally I was able to find a book with a large enough reproduction, and made this scan:

My guess is that this is a figure of the sitting God, somewhat similar to this sculpture of the Father God holding the Sphere of the World:


I’ve already shown this engraving (by anonymous master, now known as the Master FVB (c. 1490)

It basically depicts the same thing as the panel by van der Weyden, only the content now is the Lamb (likely with the banner (vexillum):

This medallion is of course very similar to the one we’ve seen in the Annunciation by Derick Baegert (see In pursuit of the mirrors of Derick Baegert.)

He is not, of course, a Flemish master, but worked really close to the Flemish lands, in Munster or likely also in Cologne.

I also already wrote about this Annunciation, too (Jan Provoost, c.1510):

Again, what we see here is not a mirror, but an interesting medallion that was likely used as a religious object:

Perhaps one of most evident, unquestionable examples of the Annunciation’s mirrors can be found in by work by Joos van Cleve (c. 1525):

This painting also shows few more interesting artefacts – including, for instance, a metal tray with a candle in front of it. Technically speaking, this is an early version of the light reflectors (the ones we use today in many modern lamps or the cars’s headlights. I have a suspicion that such structures (candle in front of a reflector) had beed used not only as the lighting devices, but also were loaded with symbolic meanings, but I need to gather more data on that.

But it is its ‘glass icon’ that makes this work so exceptionally interesting:

For a while I thought that van Cleve had only one such ‘mirror’ – until I found this other work by him:

Once again, the quality of my copy doesn’t allow me to say it with any certainty, but I think that the Archangel’s left wing indeed hides a “mirror” behind. This may be not true, of course. The panel has another interesting component, the view into the Heaven, with the God surrounded by the angels and holding the world sphere.

However, and despite the fact that the copy of the work below is even worser, we can clearly see a very large and complex mirror-like artefact in the bed behind Mary, in another Annunciation panel that is attributed to Jos van Cleve:

During all these searches I finally found a color copy of the Annunciation by Jan de Beer. When writing my posting about his mirrors (see De Beer & The Grandma’s Mirror), I only had a b/w version:

The Annunciation by Jean Hey, also known as the Master of Moulins, is another great example.

Here we can clearly see what all these ‘mirrors’ were replacing (or, perhaps, what they have been replaced by, eventually):


I believe that the point I am trying to make is getting clear by now, and I could stop here. But since I collected a few more interesting examples, why not to share them, too?  The panel below, with its massive convex mirror in an intricate and complex frame, has been attributed to the follower of Bernard van Orley:

Another panel below is attributed to the follower of Rogier van der Weyden:

What’s interesting here is that the ‘mirror’ depicted in the back room could actually be the real mirror! It is of course still serves a symbolic function (as the Mary’s sign of Speculum sine macula), but the mirror could be also used for more utilitarian purposes (a bit questionable version, I know, since it hangs too high for any real use):

I am sure there are many more Annunciation with the Mirrors (and I even didn’t mention all the ones that I found and wrote about earlier), so the counter announced in the title of the posting may actually be reached, one day in the future.


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