The history of mirrors starts in the III Century B.C. Most ancient mirrors were made from metal and had a round shape. The backside of the ancient mirrors was beautifully embellished with ornamentation. Mirrors were made from highly polished bronze and silver. The first glass mirrors were invented in I Century by Romans.
From ancient times special qualities had been given to mirrors, that no other object had. The Greek philosopher Socrates gave advice to young men to look at themselves in the mirror, and those who were handsome should focus their life on keeping their souls clean and stay away from the temptations of life that could take them on the wrong path. If a young man would find that he is not handsome, he should compensate for his look from his heart, and get known for doing a lot of good things.
In Medieval period glass mirrors completely disappeared, because during those times religious confessions stated that the devil is looking and watching the world from the opposite side of glass mirrors. Poor fashionable ladies had to use polished metal mirrors or special water bowls instead of glass mirrors.
Glass mirrors came back only in the 13th century. This time they were bent slightly outward. The method of attaching the tin to the flat surface of the glass wasn’t invented yet. Using available technology master glaziers poured hot tin into glass tubs, and then, after the tin was cold, they would break it into separate pieces.
Only three centuries later, Venetian masters invented a “flat mirror technique.” They figured out how to attach the tin to a flat glass surface. Venetian masters invented another trick. They created a special reflective mixture in which gold and bronze were added. Because of this “magical” mixture, all objects reflecting in the mirrors looked much more beautiful than in reality. The cost of one Venetian mirror then was comparable to the cost of the large naval ship.
In a city of Nuremberg (Germany) in 1373 the first mirror manufacturing plant was open. Mirrors were then aggressively integrated into all aspects of life. In the 16th century, mirrors became a part of mysterious rituals and witchcraft. Also, for 200 years, mirrors were used by Spanish and French spies for coding and decoding secret messages. This secret coding system was introduced in the 15th century by Leonardo da Vinci. The scriptures were coded in “mirror reflection,” and without the mirror, it was impossible to read the message.
Mirrors were part of another significant invention of the time – the periscope. The opportunity to discreetly spy on one’s enemy by using a system of interactive mirrors saved a lot of lives during wars. During the famous Thirty Year war, mirrors were used by all sides to blind the enemy during military actions with a bright reflection of sunlight. It was tough to aim when thousands of tiny mirrors blind your eyes.
Starting with the 12th century, no respectful lady left her house without a small mirror. Handheld mirrors and pears mirrors became must-have items for every woman. Ladies wore gold embellished mirrors on a chain around their neck or waist, inserted mirrors into the fens. Mirrors were treated just like precious jewelry and were encased in specially crafted exotic materials like a turtle shell or elephant bone frames. Some of the mirror’s frames were made from gold or silver with elegant miniature engravings.
In the 15th century, the Venetian Island of Murano became the center of glass making and was known as the “Isle of Glass.” They officially created the “Council of Ten” with a special mission of vigorously protecting the secrets of there glass making techniques. Masters glassmakers were secretly transported to the island of Murano undercover as firefighters. The “Council of Ten” generously supported glassmakers and at the same time kept them isolated from the rest of the world. The profits from the mirror making monopoly were too large to take any risks. European monarchs at whatever it cost tried to find out the Venetian glassmaking secrets. They accomplish this goal in the 17th century when Colbert (the minister of Ludwig XIV) bribed with gold three Murano masters and transported them into France.
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The French happened to be good students, and very quickly they not only mastered Murano glass-making techniques but invented they’re own. While mirror making techniques used by Venetian masters was based on glassblowing, French masters started manufacturing mirrors using casting techniques based on pouring glass into the cast molds. The glass was poured directly from the dome into the perfectly smooth surface of the cast mold, and then, as the glass was cooling, it was rolled with the special rollers achieving a perfect consistency and smoothness of the material. Immediately after this invention, in Versailles, the construction of the Mirrors Gallery began. The Mirrors Gallery was 220 feet (73 meters) long and embellished with 306 huge mirrors.
On the end of the 16th century, following the high fusion style, French queen Maria De Medici decided to create for herself a Mirrored office. For this matter, 119 mirrors were purchased from Venice. Maybe because her purchase was so large, or for some other reason, Venetian masters created a special gift for the queen of France – a unique large mirror generously incrusted with precious stones. Till this day this mirror is preserved and kept in the Louvre in Paris.
Mirrors become popular valuable collectibles among royals. English King Hendry VIII and the King of France Francis I were the most known mirrors collectors of there time. Trying to catch up with kings, nobles in France had to have extravagant mirrors at any cost. There is a knowing fact that some of them had to sell one of their residents to purchase a single beautiful mirror. Mirrors were extremely costly. For example, one mirror cost more than Rafael’s painting of the same size.
In the 17th century Russia, mirrors were considered a sin. In 1666 the Orthodox Church in prohibited the possession of mirrors by its priests. From this time on a lot of superstitions surrounded mirrors. Those superstitions seem to us funny and naive, but back then people took it very seriously. Breaking a mirror, for example, was a sign of bad luck for seven years. That is why when a mirror was broken, the person who broke it should make apologies to the mirror for clumsiness, and had to carefully and respectfully bury it. Soldiers took mirrors-talismans to reflect away death.
Mirrors have had a long and colorful journey throughout history. In our days there is no home without a mirror. Mirrors have become part of our everyday routine, often unappreciated. We always should remember “reflect” and respect the historical aspects of mirrors and appreciate more not only mirror’s functionality but the incredible esthetical value of the mirrors.