Mirrors have a long and interesting history that stretches across the world and dates back centuries. And despite their transition from a rare object only owned by the very wealthy to a common household possession, the mirror is still a highly popular item of home decor. But why do we hand them over fireplaces? Is there a superstition, a reason, a history?
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE MIRROR.
Techniques for creating mirrors advanced along with society. It was the Venetians that truly popularised mirrors as we know them today. In 1680 came the ability to produce large single sheets of glass and mirrors were made by coating the glass with a mixture of tin and mercury.
As a general rule, mirrors created before this period tend to be slightly smaller, or created from multiple panels of mirrored glass. The success of Venetian mirror makers was the envy of Europe, to the extent it was said that the French court of Louis XIV sent spies to Venice to steal their secrets. The spies must have been successful as France soon became renowned mirror makers in their own right.
The French did not keep as tight-lipped as the Venetians about their mirror-making secrets, and techniques spread to other countries soon after. In the early 19th century, a new, safer method of mirror-making was invented, using silver nitrate to replace the highly toxic mercury. Today we use aluminium in mirrors. It’s lighter, and cheaper, and crucially, not poisonous!
MYSTERY AND MYTH
You may think it a mystery as to why displaying a mirror above a fireplace is often suggested in home decor guides. Given thought, it can appear a dangerous idea to want to see your own reflection above a fire and that a piece or art would be far better suited in this location.
There is a myth that this trend dates back to a time when knights of old were once crowded around the fire on a cold night and were ambushed whilst their backs were turned. From this event onwards the rich installed mirrors above the fireplace so that they would not be compromised or vulnerable to attack again. However, the dates of large mirror manufacture and knights in castles simply don’t align, but it does make for a great fireside tale!
FROM TREND TO TRADITION
Not only do mirrors amplify natural and electrical light, they are masters of illusion; making spaces appear and feel so much bigger than their physical dimensions. From the start of using reflective surfaces in interior design, mirrors have been deliberately positioned to allow additional light to be brought into the room.
As previously mentioned, mirrors were extremely expensive, especially the larger variety. Due to their extreme value everyone wanted to showcase them as a centrepiece. The wonderment created at the royal palace at Versailles was highly influential of the trend for mirrors to adorn the walls in state rooms.
Overmantel mirrors became the must have home accessory during the Regency Period, 1811 to 1820. Architects began to lower fireplace mantels to make room for ever-larger horizontal mirrors. Often these were enhanced by gold frames, elaborate carvings, candelabras and additional smaller mirrors. Vanity was alive and thriving long before celebrity culture, but our noble forebears had to settle for mega mirrors rather than selfies!
The tradition of incorporating a mirror into the space over the mantelpiece soon became established: many of the early versions of these mirrors, usually known as overmantels, were enclosed in glass frames. The mirror was a status of wealth and the frame a reflection of taste.
A MODERN TREND
Now considered a classic look and a neutral solution on what to place over your mantel, there are other reasons why hanging a mirror above your fire is a good idea. The right mirror can make a room seem bigger and brighter, it can also create a bold and dramatic feature.
Choosing the right mirror is key to ensure that it doesn’t lack in personality and hanging something of interest on the opposite wall can give the mirror a practical value too. The idea of hanging a mirror above the fire is to enhance positive room features; it’s also an auspicious Feng Shui practice to place a mirror over a fireplace as the water element of the mirror balances the fire element, thus bringing in good energy into the room.
In conclusion, there is a rich history to hanging a mirror over a mantelpiece and it’s an interior practice that isn’t going anywhere soon. The many unique styles of mirror available on the market make it a great item to create an attention-demanding centrepiece in any room.