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Reflect the Past: Exploring Medieval Mirrors

Mirrors have long been cherished for their ability to reflect our image and provide a glimpse into our physical appearance.

In the medieval period, mirrors held a special significance, not only as practical objects but also as symbols of status and beauty.

Early Medieval Mirrors

During the early medieval period, mirrors were primarily made of polished metal, such as bronze or silver. These mirrors had a reflective surface on one side and often featured intricate engravings or decorations on the reverse side. They were small in size and typically handheld, making them portable and convenient for personal use. Enough to reflect the owner’s face.

Venus
Venus with a mirror. The mirror has been an important part of human life for hundreds of years.

Medieval mirrors held symbolic meaning beyond their practical function. They were believed to possess mystical properties and were associated with divination and the supernatural. Mirrors were sometimes used in religious ceremonies and rituals, serving as portals to communicate with the spiritual realm.

Frames and Decoration

Medieval mirrors were often encased in ornate frames, showcasing the craftsmanship and artistic sensibilities of the time. The frames were crafted from various materials, including wood, metal, and precious stones. Intricate carvings, engravings, and gemstone embellishments adorned the frames, adding a touch of luxury and beauty. The frames would often reflect the wealth of the owner more than the actual mirror.

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To enhance the reflective properties of the mirrors, medieval craftsmen applied various substances to the metal surface. These included mercury, tin-mercury amalgams, or a mixture of tin and lead. These backings provided a smoother and more polished reflection, creating a clearer image for the viewer.

Types of Mirror

While handheld mirrors were common, larger, and more elaborate mirrors were also crafted. These mirrors, known as “hall mirrors,” were often placed in communal spaces such as castles or noble residences. They were larger in size and mounted on walls or placed on stands. Hall mirrors were a symbol of wealth and social status, reflecting the grandeur and opulence of the medieval elite.

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In addition to flat mirrors, medieval craftsmen also experimented with convex and concave mirrors. Convex mirrors, with their outward-curving surface, created a distorted reflection that was popular in decorative purposes and artistic representations. Concave mirrors, with their inward-curving surface, were believed to possess magical and mystical properties, often associated with divination and enchantment.

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The production of mirrors during the medieval period involved skilled craftsmen who mastered the art of metalworking, engraving, and decorative techniques. Mirror-making became a specialized craft, with artisans creating mirrors for both local consumption and trade. Certain regions, such as Venice, became renowned for their mirror production, establishing a flourishing industry that catered to domestic and international markets.

Their Role

Medieval mirrors served various practical and symbolic purposes in society. They were essential grooming tools, aiding individuals in personal care and attire. Mirrors also played a role in social interactions and courtly etiquette, enabling individuals to present themselves in the best possible light.

Tabernacle
A very ornate mirror frame would reflect the status of the owner. The mirror itself has sadly foxed and cracked.

The possession of mirrors became a status symbol, reflecting one’s wealth, taste, and refinement.

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Medieval mirrors offer us a captivating glimpse into the aesthetics, craftsmanship, and cultural significance of the time. Beyond their practical function, mirrors held deep symbolism and reflected the beliefs, values, and social structures of medieval society.

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From the craftsmanship of the frames to the mystical associations, mirrors truly played a multifaceted role in the lives of medieval individuals.

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