Witch mirrors

A couple years ago, I wrote a piece for the magazine Illustrati called The Two Sides of the Mirror, in which I talked about the symbology of this common object and its deep esoteric connotations.

But there is a peculiar kind of magic mirror that has a long and interesting tradition: the so-called “eye of the witch” (œil de sorcière).

It is a round, convex mirror giving a comprehensive view of the room it’s placed in: because of its curved surface, the reflection is distorted in much the same way of a wide-angle barrel distortion. Sometimes called “banker’s mirrors”, they were used since the XIV Century by money changers and goldsmiths to control their shops from a wider visual. But these mirrors found widespread diffusion two hundred years later, becoming part of bourgeois interior furniture in all Northern Europe; a luxury that was democratized in the XIX Century, when they began to be industrially produced.

Surrounded by superstition and magic beliefs, these mirrors were considered a “third eye” of sorts, capable of keeping watch over the servants whenever the master was away from home; but they were also meant as a status symbol, precious and valued objects. They were hung in a clearly visible spot, often sumptuously framed and encircled by other, smaller mirrors. To enhance the surveillance effect, perhaps, but also to give light to interiors by reflecting lamps and windows, so much so that in time they got decorated with golden wooden rays, as if they were a private sun lighting up the house. For this reason, little by little the mirrors shifted from being surveillance instruments to being considered lucky charms, benign eyes protecting the family.

The miroirs de sorcière appear in several paintings by Flemish masters, for instance in the famous Jan van Eyck‘s Arnolfini Portrait. Here the mirror is used for the first time as a device to break the “fourth wall”, showing in perspective the part of the scene that is usually invisible; van Eyck turns the mirror into a Christian symbol of purity showing the sacred bond of marriage (it reflects the wedding witnesses), but many other painters used it to include themselves in the portrait, to bring an additional light source to their painting, to symbolize pride or fleeting beauty in the vanitas depictions.

Among the artists who placed these mirrors in their paintings are Quentin Metsys, Petrus Christus, Parmigianino, Caravaggio, but the list would really be too long: for a history of the miroir de sorcière in art you can look up this article.

Today these objects, rich with history and mystery, come back to life in the Canestrelli workshop in Venice, the only studio specialized in the production of these convex mirrors, hand crafted by the owner Stefano Coluccio.

Alexa Meade

Guardate questo dipinto. Notate niente di strano?

Qualcosa di particolare c’è. Non è un dipinto, ma una fotografia.

L’artista americana Alexa Meade ha solo 23 anni, ma ha inventato una originalissima tecnica di trompe l’œil “al contrario”.

Dopo la laurea in Scienze Politiche, e aver avuto un’esperienza come interno a Capitol Hill, e un’altra come impiegata nell’ufficio stampa durante la campagna di Obama nel 2008, Alexa ha deciso di dedicarsi all’arte. Quello che le sue esperienze politiche le hanno insegnato è che non tutto è ciò che sembra: vedere e credere sono due cose separate.

Così, la sua visione della realtà è espressa nei suoi lavori di trompe l’œil al contrario. Alexa ha elaborato una tecnica di pittura che permette di far sembrare piatto uno spazio a tre dimensioni, sfocando le linee di confine tra illusione e realtà.

Normalmente un dipinto è l’interpretazione dell’artista di un soggetto reale, disegnato su un’altra superficie. Nei suoi ritratti, invece, Alexa crea la sua interpretazione direttamente sul soggetto. Arte che imita la vita, basandosi sulla vita stessa.

“Mascherando” i suoi soggetti sotto strati di pittura, Alexa porta in realtà alla superficie la sua visione di quello che il soggetto rappresenta in profondità. È come se la vera anima dei suoi modelli (così come l’artista la figura) venisse esposta proprio grazie al camuffamento a cui li sottopone.

Il sito ufficiale di Alexa.

Scoperto via BoingBoing.