Looking Through the Looking-Glass
Updated: Feb 11
(Originally published in the Napa Valley Register)
When Lewis Carroll wrote “Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There” in 1871, I wonder if he knew that mirrors had such an intriguing history. He probably did. He had the kind of mind that was curious and could think abstractly. Did you know that this author and poet graduated from Oxford with a Bachelors of Arts in Mathematics? First in his class, no less. It comes as no surprise to me that a mirror was just the thing to stimulate his imagination.
The first manufactured mirrors were polished stone. Remnants of obsidian (black volcanic glass) dating back to 6000 B.C. and found in Turkey were probably the first mirrors ever made. Other polished stone, as well as various metals, have been found in Mesopotamia, Egypt, China, India and South America dating from 4000 B.C. to 2000 B.C. The first glass mirror is thought to have been invented in Lebanon during the first century A.D. A metal coating was added to increase the reflectivity.
Fast-forward to the 17th century and you’ll find that mirrors were among the most expensive items one could possess. The Republic of Venice even had a monopoly on mirror manufacturing. This posed a problem for France during the construction of the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles. The French Minister of Finance, who required all items in the Palace be made in France, enticed Venetians workers to Versailles. According to legend, in order to keep its monopoly, the Venetian government then sent agents to France to poison the workers.
A technological innovation involving a high temperature glass-melting process was used in the Hall of Mirrors. This first-time process added to the significance and glory of the Hall. Seventeen mirror-clad arches reflecting seventeen arcaded windows overlooking the gardens illustrated a masterful, architectural use of this reflective material. The ingenious and impressive use of mirrors at the Palace of Versailles made it a desirable destination for world and state meetings for centuries including the signing of the Treaty to end World War One.
In today’s households, mirrors are hung in the standard places - above bedroom dressers and bathroom vanities. Some are mounted over front door entry tables. No doubt about it, they serve a useful purpose. But what about their not-so-obvious purposes like brightening, lightening, and enlarging a room? What about the way they define architectural shapes and double your viewing pleasure?
A mirror can reflect a focal point, become a focal point, or enhance a focal point. An antiqued mirror (one with grayed and cloudy glass) adds a sense of history and luxury to a room. An antiqued mirror is also known as a “Venetian mirror” for reasons you now know.
Choosing the place to hang a mirror calls for a little strategy. Pay attention to what it would reflect. If adjacent to or opposite a window, you’ll not only double the view beyond the window but increase the light coming through it. A mirror hung over a mantel or table reflects the items on those surfaces. A vase of flowers becomes two.
What do you do if your walls cannot accommodate a mirror? How can you still get those sparkling, brightening, reflective perks? Mirrored furniture. Dressers, nightstands, buffets, and accent tables are all available in mirror veneers and can be incorporated into all décors.
When it comes to mirror frames, the world is your oyster. In fact, some frames are made of seashells. Materials are only limited by the imagination of a mirror craftsman.
Think of a mirror as a piece of art. It can draw you into its reflected image just like a painting. A mirror can define your décor, create ambiance, and add interest, drama, texture, volume and depth to your space – without any poisonous threats from the Venetian Republic.
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