Mirrors in the Visual Arts: Reflections, Visions, and Illusions

Reflections have fascinated people for millennia. Mirrors and art have been inextricably entwined for about 80,000 years, and many are so well crafted that they can be considered works of art. Mirrors may be the physical material of works of art like the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles or the mirror paintings of Roy Lichtenstein or the Infinity Mirrors of Yayoi Kusama. Metaphorically, all art is a mirror reflecting its culture.

Mirrors have been used as symbols of capture, death, the eye of God, lust, piety, pride, prudence, purity, sight, transience, truth, and vanity. Mirrors have been associated with superstition, magic, prophesy, and fantasy. Perseus used a mirror to kill Medusa.

Reflective surfaces have enabled people to see how they appear to others. Artists use mirrors both to explore space within and expand the sense of space outside their creations. In his notebooks, Leonardo da Vinci advised his readers that “The mind of the painter must resemble a mirror, which always takes the colour of the object it reflects and is completely occupied by the images of as many objects as are in front of it.”

This seminar will trace both the history of the art of the mirror and of the mirror in art. Its focus will be mirrors as artistic content and metaphor from antiquity to the present in manuscript illuminations, prints, paintings, sculpture, and architecture.

Do mirrors reflect reality or capture the soul or anticipate the future? Like Alice’s looking glass, do they lead to imaginary worlds? Let us explore these questions together.

Venue: Fisher College
Meets on: Mondays 10:00 am to noon
Starting: 10/16/2023
Sessions: 6
Class Size: 24
Teaching Style: Lecture and discussion
Weekly Preparation: Optional
Group Leader Biography:

Nina Moriarty earned her A.B. in art history from Wellesley College, her M.A. in Fine Arts from Tufts University, and her Ph.D. in the History of Art from Boston University. Her research is in the fields of early prints and later medieval manuscript illumination. Her interest in mirror images began with medieval speculum literature and later paintings of convex mirrors and complex reflections. Nina taught various art history and introductory humanities courses in colleges and universities in the Boston area and retired after teaching 26 years at Babson College.