Re Annunciation

This was my very first post in this FB community, and from this very first post I have tried to introduce a complex subject of mirrors / ‘mirrors’, the one that I keep writing here for ages. The subject was the Annunciation panel, from a large altarpiece known as the Passion Polyptych (or the Polyptych with Scenes of the Passion).

I wrote about these (alleged) mirrors of the Annunciation few times, and the largest post about this topic is called 1001 virgins and their (alleged) mirrors. So, in many ways this is just yet another examples of such ‘mirror’.

The fact that this panel is a part of huge installation that combines panels and the central sculptural part, can be see as a ‘follow-up’ to a few other ‘altarpiece postings’ here, most notably the one about the Wunderaltar in Dortmund (where I also found a few ‘mirrors’):

The altarpiece is fairly large, almost 3m high and 4,3 m wide (with the open doors). Its central wooden part is attributed to the Flemish Master of the Oplinter Altarpiece (?) and his workshop, while the panels are lately attributed to Pieter Coecke van Aelst (or close followers). The altarpiece was completed circa 1535 and is currently in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

In this way this panel can be also seen as a follow-up of another posting that I wrote about Pieter Coecke van Aelst and his ‘mirrors’ – Mirrors of the Virginal Thrones.

Knowing the master, I could point to two other panels that may potentially have ‘mirrors’ as well (but the copy that I have do not allow me confirm or discard it).  One is the Last Supper, the panel of the altarpiece’s predella:

The second candidate is the panel with Pilate Washing his Hands, another scene where we could find a ‘mirror’, on a Pilate’s throne:

I didn’t post it there, but can’t resist sharing here the view of the closed altar, also beautiful:

Speaking about Pieter Coecke van Aelst, I later found another remarkable ‘mirror’ of him (or at least it is attributed to this workshop) – Virgin and Child under Canopy with a Speculum (Sine Macula) (c.1555):

This is quite a unique work, with the ‘mirror’ presented in the context of Madonna and the Child Christ enthroned.

So far I knew only one similar ‘mirror’, only in the scene of the Adoration of the Magi, by Jan van Dornicke:

There is, of course, the mirror of the Nieuwenhove Diptych (Speculum sine macula, postmodo), but there Madonna is depicted in a much more homey environment.  Finally, there is a very festive panel by Gerard David, with the Virgin and Child , and Saints, and Donor, and the ‘thingy’ (Mirror Tic-Tac-Toe) – but this is not a ‘mirror’:

The one depicted here is totally a ‘mirror’, and in amazingly rich frame. This ‘mirror’ is very elaborate, with a central convex glass, four large and 12(?) smaller beads, and six figures that form a circle (I clearly see four, and guess the the two upper silhouettes are also human figures).

The fruits and berries in front of Madonna likely compile a message of sort.

One of the members of this FB/FP community, Mark Calderwood, has suggested the following interpretation:

“It most probably wasn’t as literal as a sentence to medieval people, although it can be constructed as such. But the fruits all have specific meanings that refer to aspects of Christ’s incarnation and form a loose, ‘thematic sentence’ to be ‘read’ in contemplation.

The cherries symbolise the blood of the redeemer, and the sweetness to be gained from good works; the apple obviously the fruit of Adam, the whole reason the incarnation is necessary; the grapes also blood, symbolic of Christ as the true vine, and by reference to washing his garments in wine, the crucifixion; the lemon the bitterness of the crucifixion and the bittersweet nature of redemption, but also of fidelity; and the pear is a complex symbol of physicality, often associated with indulgence and sin but also carried strong overtones of medicine and redemption. The placement of the fruit on a parapet separating the holy figures from the viewer is a fashionable Italian device that indicates its importance to the narrative- the fruit is to be meditated on in prayerful contemplation to ‘get to’ the painting behind.

So, we could ‘read’ it as: Christ has been born because of the fall of mankind and the weakness of the flesh, but it is his becoming flesh, together with fidelity and doing good works, his blood shed for us and bitter sacrifice redeems mankind.”

Now, I wanted to write ‘shorter postings’. But the follow-ups tend to lead to another follow-ups, and the chains become networks, the usual stuff.

Soon the founder of this community have shared another work by Pieter Coecke van Aelst that I was completely unaware of:

We are closing the circle here, as it is yet another Annunciation, with.. well, I wouldn’t call this thing a ‘mirror’, but this is exactly the one that convex mirrors were often substituting:


It is a splendid work, full of shining details. I couldn’t find it before partly because there was no ‘mirror’ in it, and also because it’s in the Musée Santa Cruz in Toledo, and Spanish museums still don’t particular bother to promote the treasures they have.

I’ve never see such a ‘reflective’ cloak, with so many beads as this one worn by the Archangel Gabriel. Each of these beads could be a mini-mirror, too, meaning that we can also find small reflections in their surfaces – similar to the one we see in the world sphere hold by the God Father.

<is there such thing as ‘the end of reflection’?>


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