About ‘Art Mirrors Art’

The idea behind this blog was simple. Or it seemed to be.

I thought to collect the examples of art works that depict mirrors and present them in a somewhat orderly manner, to tell the history of mirrors in art. I didn’t plan to collect all such works (‘this will be a few hundreds, may be, and that’s too many to cover’), but I planned to find a couple of dozens of the ‘major ones’ and to finish this business in, let’s say, ten posts. 


Let’s say that my assumptions about the simplicity of this enterprise were sightly off, just slightly.

I have been busy with this topics for more than seven years by now. I gathered 12,500+ artworks that depict mirrors or use them in some way. I wrote about 250 post, some short, some very long, and I easily have enough materials to write three times more, if I would have more time. And  – I don’t see any end of this, increasingly feeling that I just scratch a surface.

What was the very impulse for the project is a bit difficult to tell, even for me. Like many, I have been bumping into interesting examples of the ‘mirrors in art’, such as Jan van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait of Diego Velázquez’s Las Meninas. I read some academic studies and more popular interpretations (often fairly esoteric).  I remember being bemused by how differently people interpreted these artworks.

In fact, it is this multiplicity of interpretations that caught my attention first: I recall writing a long review of re-interpretations and re-appropriations of the Meninas by different artists (including fifty something paintings by Pablo Picasso),

At some point I started to gather these ‘mirror artworks’ more systematically, and to write about these findings. I was discovering both well-known artworks and fairly obscure pieces. Most of them were paintings or photographs, but in any case, 2D works, but I also found a wide variety of other things too, like sculptures, tapestries, or installations. Sometimes these were even the mirrors themselves, decorated so lavishly that they would easily go as the art pieces.  Of course, when I say ‘gather’ I mean collecting (mostly digital) reproductions of these artworks, not the real paintings or sculptures.

There are many similar collections already (and the number only grows, thanks to the platforms like Pinterest). Whether gathered by amateur art lovers or professional art historians, these collections mainly focus on the artistic side of these works, and occasionally on the biographies of the artists themselves. Some of these collections focus on certain themes (for examples, the artworks that illustrate the Bible or depict ‘female beauty’).  

I am obviously interested in these things too, but my own take is somewhat different, and I hope my stories about these subjects, too. To start with, I am not an art critic or an art historian; I am not even a ‘just historian’.

Time-wise, my background could be seen as the exact opposite to anything ‘historical’, it lies in a corner of humanities referred as ‘future studies’. On a practical side, I help people to think about, and to work with the ‘possible futures’ (the type of business known as ‘strategic innovation’.)

At some point, with some amusement to myself, I have discovered that these stories about ‘mirrors in the art of the past’ can in fact help me in my own work with the futures! This discovery didn’t happen at once and it took me a while to see the things more clear, but after some time this project also started to work as a training platform, an intellectual gym of some sort, for my thinking about the futures.

I also found that these mental exercises – reflections about history of technology, history of cultures and societies, and general history of ideas – may also help other people to  deal with the concept of possible futures a bit better. 

At some point I even summarised all these ideas in a separate post, a kind of methodological introduction to this blog, called it Future of Mirrors, Mirror of Future.

This framework is still in a making, and it evolves as a result of studying certain topics (for example, the history of the Prudence’s mirrors was an important addition to my initial thinking).

Perhaps worth saying that I initially started to write about these things in Russian, first in Live Journal, and then in my Russian-language blog called Specularum. At some point I realized that I need a separate blog in English, and here it is.

Now, speaking about ‘blogs’, I have recently found a very appropriate ‘warning sign’:

It is exactly the way this blog is run, too. The only things I can add is that English is not my native language, so in addition to the above problems I also keep making all kind of stupid mistakes – grammatical, stylistic and what not. Very often I don’t write in English at all, but rather express my thoughts in Russian using English words.  You are warned twice, people!

The postings here are often ‘drafts & stuff’. They are not aimed at competing with any serious academic or even journalistic publications, and indeed always remain to be very bloggish (and I want to keep them this way).

When I write these postings, I don’t follow any particularly structure, or strategy. One day this may be a story about an exhibition I visited at this very day, and another time I can write about a paintings that I’ve seen years ago. Well aware of this turbulent flow, I also maintain a more (or less) structured overview, a list of all the postings in a chronological, regional and topical order. You can find this overview in the Inventory of Mirrors in Art.

Finally, the copyright stuff. My own texts and the visuals I create myself are under the Creative Commons license (Attribution + Noncommercial, to be precise). In other words, feel free to use and share them, but please provides credits to the creator). If you plan to make lots of money with them, we need to talk.  

As for the other visual materials I use, I don’t hold copyrights to any of the art works that I post here.  I am using all these reproductions with research and educational purposes only, adhering a fair use policy. If you look for the copyrights for these work, you need to search elsewhere.

These kind of intros are usually ended with the calls to Enjoy! or Have fun!  Please have those, too, but be also ready to confront your own ideas, to dis-illusion yourself  – or rather, find the new illusions.


7 thoughts on “About ‘Art Mirrors Art’

  1. I work at a very large state agency in a very large state. The agency is in the process of managing change from an archaic culture of barely controlled chaos where success is largely accidental to a culture of planning and (gasp for us) managing work. We have a lot of “voice of the customer” outreach, and during this, we hear too often, “This is how we do it in our area” with little or no projection into a future that could be different. The dead hand of dysfunctional tradition is a major obstacle. Apparently, there are few mirrors in which we can see ourselves and recognize like the 1960s or 70s TV commercials that it’s Shake and Bake, and I helped.

    • Hehe, perhaps we can talk ‘professionally’ 🙂 My agency is small, and I live in a small state, but these are exactly the issues we are helping to explore and resolve.

  2. Congratulations for this website, blog, or whatever these things are called nowadays! I just found it by accident and I am so glad that I did. Your posts are a thoroughly enjoyable read, very in-depth and interesting indeed. I will follow it closely form now on, I can assure you. Allow me you thank you for your culturally illuminating services, by presenting you with a painting that will certainly appease to your reverence for mirrors and reflections, from the magical Golden Age of Dutch Painting that you so often make mention of: http://artifexinopere.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Ludolf-de-Jongh-Le-verre-refuse-1650-55-National-Gallery.jpg

    Best regards,
    Pedro Fonseca e Silva

    • Dear Pedro,

      Thank you very much for your feedback and your kind words! I am glad that you found this blog of some interest for you. Unfortunately, the project has been abandoned lately, due to my professional duties (as you could guess, this project has no direct relationshiops with my main work). Let’s hope that one day soon I will be able to resume writing here on a more regular base.

      I very much appreciate your ‘gift’, this self-portrait by Ludolf Leendertsz de Jongh! It is indeed one of the most intersting examples of self-portraits by the Dutch masters of this age, and I would love to delve a bit more into the story of its making.

      Meanwhile, please do read the previous materials written here, and I hope to read more of your comments in the future!

      Yours truly,

  3. I’ve just stumbled upon your blog and read the Beckmann part I&II piece. Its excellent, thank you, and Im looking forward to reading more. Good to see a couple of pictures illustrated that were new to me, despite major survey at Tate Modern London 2003 and the books I have. Especially interesting, because there is virtually nothing recorded about MB’s technique, was your inclusion of the unfinished final triptych. This triptych gives insight into his working methods (at least at the end period). It looks as if the general areas of colour are applied in pastel, with drawing, probably first in charcoal, then in a turps thinned black or maybe black ink as is suggested in the book “Beckmann and America” where they illustrate a small final picture “Opticians Window” 1950, left unfinished. It mentions that this is one of only two examples of an unfinished work found in the studio, where this starting process can be seen, but obviously this tryptich is another, and very good one too. I like to imagine this would have been a sensational good piece if realised. Interesting to imagine what Beckmann might have been making had he had more active years in NYC and exposure to the AB X scene makers…Im certain all that glass, transparent and reflective material all about him would have fascinated him. I realise its a bit off your subject, but do you have any information regards his working methods, his use of pastel and ink as the starting point for the pictures? Thanks, Greg.

  4. Hi Greg,

    Thank you for your kind words! I am glad to hear that you found my writings interesting and somewhat informative. You are right in noticing that the issue of painting techniques is a bit far from my core focus in this blog, although I do pay attention to these things, too, as they influence the ways that mirrors are depicted. But I can’t cover everything in this truly hobby project.

    Re Beckmann, I remember reading that he was fascinated with stained glass. Indeed, some of his paintings (especially some of the large triptychs) bear resemblance to the stained glass windows. I had a chance to see some of his triptychs, and this is a very moving experience.

    I also recall reading that he used quite a complex, multilayered technique, putting dark pigments underneath many of his otherwise bright paints (but I don’t remember the source by know, sorry). I know little about his late turn to pastel.

    Sometimes I write follow-up postings, in case I find more examples. By now I have a few more interesting mirror-works by Beckmann and, time allowing, plan to write about them. IfI will find something about technical aspects, I will try to include these things as well.

    Have a nice day!

  5. Just fyi: Ive read that regards pastels, he would put the colour down in pastel first, arrive at a general scheme/key to his satisfaction, and then remove one area of pastel at a time with turps, and paint in the corresponding colour…and so on, until completion. some of the last works still have passages of pastel remaining here and there. Why he’d use ink to draw his elements in, on his oil primed canvas canvases…I don’t know…a thinned down black oil paint would have made more sense, but apparently it was ink. I was aware of his attachment to gothic tradition and its stained glass, in this regard like frenchman Roualt (although with different results). Thanks for your reply and enjoyable work.

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