We’ve recently rearranged objects in our decorative arts galleries, in the process making mirror selfies easier to achieve. Why not? Shiny is beautiful.
The shiniest galleries at the Getty Center are found in the South Pavilion. Here, in the realm of European decorative arts, visitors enjoy taking photos of sleek marquetry veneers, translucent porcelain, glittering gilt bronze—and themselves, reflected in stunning mirrors. We recently rearranged objects in these galleries, in the process making selfies easier to pull off.
Fancy Glints for Fancy Tastes
Mirrors in the Getty’s collection come mainly from 17th- and 18th-century France, where they fulfilled both aesthetic and utilitarian needs. Set within ornamental frames and incorporated into interior walls, mirror or plate glass reflected natural and artificial light while also creating an illusion of spatial depth. By night, the mirrors glinted and glowed by candlelight.
In France, artisans known as miroitiers created mirrors by pouring molten glass onto iron plates that were then polished and “silvered” with mercury, a process that was less than perfect or safe for the craftsmen. Large sheets of plate glass were difficult to produce before technological breakthroughs were made in the late 1700s, and smaller pieces were often combined to form larger mirrors.
The inherent fragility of mirror glass added to its expense; a pair of Swedish silver-plated bronze girandole mirrors are among the few objects in the Museum’s collection that retain their original glass, intended to reflect flickering candlelight. Carl Gustaf Tessin, a Swedish nobleman and ambassador to France, wrote to his wife in 1741 that “we are unlucky with mirrors” after a shipment ended in disaster. Although Tessin made sure to properly chastise the deliveryman for his careless packaging, he admitted that this “does not give us back our looking-glass.”
Given the costs associated with their manufacture and purchase, mirrors were as much a statement of personal taste and fashion as they were a sign of wealth and prestige. Perhaps Tessin drew inspiration from the legendary Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, completed in 1684, when buying his French mirrors.
Historic Mirrors, Contemporary Selfies
Many 21st-century visitors are also drawn to the historic mirrors in the South Pavilion. In fact, they provide a perfect opportunity to record a personal souvenir of a visit to the Getty.
On any given day, countless guests can be seen taking mirror selfies throughout the galleries, including in the neoclassical salon de compagnie designed by Claude-Nicolas Ledoux at the time of the French Revolution—an endlessly reflecting mirror-paneled room that takes the concept of mirror selfie to the next level.
This room, saved from the Parisian home of West Indian planter Jean-Baptiste Hosten before its demolition around 1892, was reconstructed in the Getty’s South Pavilion. Modern reproductions simulate the appearance of the original glass, lost during the removal of the interior paneling in the late 1800s.
Another decorative arts favorite for selfies is an extravagant, almost architectural mirror in the South Pavilion’s Great Hall. Standing over 10 feet tall, its oak and limewood frame features lavish carved details including a smiling female mask. In style, the mirror is a bridge between the formal French baroque tradition and the more lighthearted, playful designs of the rococo, a transition that took place in the early 1700s.
A mirror like this would have likely been hung between two windows, a space known as a trumeau in French, and over a chest of drawers or a console table in an elite Parisian residence. Mirrors displayed in this way are often referred to as “pier glasses” in English, and one of this size would have required more than one piece of glass. At the Museum, two pieces of modern glass are used to recreate this authentic period appearance.
Until recently, a chest of drawers and a Chinese porcelain bowl with silver mounts were exhibited below the mirror. Given its popularity for taking selfies, curators improvised to protect the furniture and porcelain from potential damage. With these pieces relocated further down the gallery, visitors can now see and photograph the mirror—and themselves—more clearly.
Come admire your reflection and take as many pictures as you wish. And when you do, stop and reflect on the power and symbolism of mirrors in centuries past.