An Ancient Aid to Beauty - The Earliest Mirrors - How Mirrors Can be Used to the Best Effect The Uses of Mirrors - The Convex Mirror
The uses of the mirror are manifold, whether for increasing the apparent size of a room, for reflecting light in a dark corner, or for showing us ourselves " as others see us." These are some of the offices which this useful and beautiful object performs for us.
The primi-tive, unsc-phisticated maid of prehistoric times doubtless had no mirror save the clear forest pools to assist her to braid her hair in the most becoming fashion, arrange her skin clothing to advantage, or learn the exact tint of woad that best suited her com -plexion. But when man began to work in metals, we may be sure that woman persuaded him to fashion for her a small, bright metal mirror.
Polished hand mirrors form some of the earliest relics of civilisation, and amongst the highly civilised peoples whose household equipment has been preserved for us in their elaborate tombs, mirrors are constantly found, perfect in condition and of fine workmanship.
During the period in which all domestic furniture received special attention, and the decorative value of interior fittings was enhanced by the finest craftsmanship in the world, the glass mirror with a back treated with quicksilver, or the one with a brightly polished metal surface, alike received special care. One can imagine the framing and setting Cellini and his school would give to such an object. Gold, carving, enamel, and precious stones would serve in turn to enrich the mirror frame.
A mirror for a moderate-sized room. This design would harmonise with most modern furniture
A design which, though simple, escapes severity and is suitable for filling a narrow space or recess
For the Roi Soleil gorgeous mirrors were made. When mirrors were desired of greater size than could be produced from the largest sheets of glass then procurable, various methods were adopted in order to introduce a line of decorative joining. Such lines were necessary in
Chippendale's time, and we not infrequently find a mirror with a gilt carved frame arranged in special panels in order to eke out the lack of size in the sheets of glass.
These inner d ivisions, though quite perceptible, are never allowed to interfere with cohesion in the design of the outer frame; consequently there is no loss of dignity. A true artist, the craftsman of the day turned even the limitations of his materials to decorative account.
This joining is characteristic of all mirrors made before the first quarter of the nineteenth century, after which date improvements in the method of glass-making made possible the production of enormous sheets of glass. These decorative joins, therefore, disappeared, and the quaint lines of carved and gilt wood, of coloured glass, or inner and outer frame-work, ceased to add their quota of charm to the mirror.
There survive but few people who dare to use the enormous sheet of looking-glass which the mid-victorian era decreed as the essential and only possible wall decoration from mantelshelf to ceiling. The Brobdingnagian foliage and florid gilt excrescences which served as top and side ornaments to the frames were other outrages on taste, and the unbroken surface reflected glaring lights from the plain white ceiling, and seemed to assault the eye on entering a room.
A mirror of this design would look well in a room furnished in Georgian style. It is framed in wood, carved and gilded
The laws of decoration suitable for moderate-sized rooms are now sufficiently well understood to exclude from them any but small mirrors, whose surfaces, broken by lines or varied by shape and ornament, cast attractive lights, and yet are not glaring in effect.
Over the mantelshelf is still a favourite place for the mirror, and its brightness and attractive beauty specially fits it for a position of such importance. This is peculiarly the case in England, where the domestic hearth, and open fire, takes the place of the old sacred fire near which were placed the lares and penates of the householder.
The Mirror as a Keynote in Decoration
It is advisable to make the mirror the keynote of the decoration of the room in which it is placed. It is not given to us all to be chronological as to every decoration and fitment, and to follow a period with logical exactness. Most people possess things by inheritance, by necessity, and sometimes by a mistaken former choice, which must be utilised because substitutes of the right period are not procurable. Nearly everyone, however, can use a graceful mirror as the nucleus of a small group of objects in harmony. For instance, a modern Venetian mirror, which is an excellent reproduction of an antique design, is suitably placed above the mantelpiece of a small, low room, the ante-room of a larger apartment, and greatly improves it by its bright surface gleams. Italian lace, point de Milan, is used as a dainty flounce that partially conceals the painted chimney 'shelf. A Venetian glass vase is placed in front and further enhances the Italian note. An old lacquer pearl inlaid hand-screen and some Oriental blue china sauce-boats - ready for a handful of violets or a bunch of primroses - are the only other ornaments.
A Useful Glass in the Hall
There should always be a small mirror in every hall, hung in such a way that the incoming guest may see that all is right before greeting his host. No man is at his best when he is uncertain as to whether he is wearing a smut in addition to his usual outdoor clothes; nor is any woman, however strong-minded, proof against a feeling of slight depression if she suspects that her hat is not at the right angle.
In these days of out-of-door occupations people motor considerable distances, cycle along dusty roads, and drop in unexpectedly for tea with their friends. A cursory glance in a mirror, and a small readjustment of neckwear, veil, and hat is due not only to the traveller, but also to the host. Every woman should see to it that a mirror hangs close to her hospitable door.
The modest example here illustrated has a narrow mahogany frame inlaid with a line of satin wood, and was procured for a few shillings at a country sale, its leg supports having been irretrievably broken.
The Charm of the Convex Mirror
The placing of convex mirrors requires some care. Their rounded surfaces reflect, if judiciously hung, a perfect picture of a room in miniature. On the other hand, if they are so placed that straight upright lines are seen in wrong perspective the whole picture is distorted, and the result is ugly and ridiculous.
The hall mirror is a necessity in a modern house for the comfort and convenience of arriving and departing visitors
There is an eighteenth century feeling about a convex mirror which is artistically valuable in a room where old colour prints, silhouettes, garlanded carving, and bold-patterned chintzes are used. All such objects serve to emphasise the note struck by the mirror, and its unusual round shape gives an agreeable line unobtainable by any other means.
Convex mirrors are very useful between two windows, where they serve to lighten an unattractive space, and are also likely to reflect a pretty picture of the interior of a room.
These mirrors can seldom be placed successfully in a hall, for if they reflect the staircase, the curved reflection of straight lines is suggestive of a nightmare.
An excellent effect can be produced by a convex mirror judiciously hung so as to reflect a pretty interior. The round shape of the mirror gives an agreeable line, otherwise unobtainable
Of Old Mirrors
It was an old custom always to place mirrors between windows, a plan carried out with beautiful effect at Pet-worth, where Lord Le-confield's superb old glasses clearly demon-strate the value of such arrangement. The con-sol table of Napoleon,s time invariably had its mirror above it, and in later days, when looking-glass could be made to fit any space, sheets of looking-glass, lightly framed in gilt, filled up such wall spaces.
The superb mirrors of Louis XV. period were supported on a marble-topped table. The frames of such mirrors, in carved and gilt wood, frequently matched the carving of the table supports beneath it. These mirrors show clearly the line where an additional piece of glass has been added to the top.
One cannot forget the gruesome effect of the mirror-lined apartment of the ill-fated Louis XVI. at Versailles, which reflects the visitor as headless, owing to the badly arranged join in the mirror plates.