Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Tabernacle mirror frame

Unknown (Italian, Ferrara)
Italian, Florence(?)
Overall: 16 1/4 x 15 1/8
Credit Line:
Robert Lehman Collection, 1975 1975.1.2090
Accession Number:
Not on view
A myriad of meanings, both positive and negative, were attached to mirrors in the Renaissance. Symbols of vanity, voluptuousness, deceit, humility, and pride, mirrors were also associated with prudence, a virtue. Venus, goddess of love, frequently looked at her own comely reflection in a looking glass. By the sixteenth century, the mirror was a codified attribute of female beauty, seen, for example, in Cesara Ripa's 1593 Iconologia with the personification of Bellezza Feminile (Feminine Beauty).
Renaissance mirrors were often concealed behind curtains or shutters, which served to protect the fragile glass. This handsome example is exceptional in having not one but two sliding shutters: the mirror, behind the top shutter, is mounted in a second inner shutter that could be pulled open to one side (the shell-shaped volutes served as handles). The shallow rebate behind the second secret shutter undoubtedly contained an illicit image, probably a portrait of a mistress or lover or an erotic scene, that only the mirror's owner was privileged to behold. Painted mistress portraits were frequently concealed behind shutters or curtains in the sixteenth century and could be revealed only by an actively engaged voyeur—a convention that served to heighten the erotic content of the image by arousing desire and underscoring the forbidden aspect of the subject. The maker of this frame transferred such conceit to this innocent household object, whose owner went to unusual lengths to safeguard his secret.
Collection Salvadori; Collection Volpi; [Bellini, Florence, Venice 1932]; RLC October 1955;
Related Objects

[Pennsylvania Railroad Engine]

Artist: Unknown (American) Date: 1865–69 Medium: Albumen silver print from glass negative Accession: 1992.5012 On view in:Not on view

[Two Ships on the Water as seen from the Deck of a Third]

Date: 1890s Medium: Gelatin silver print Accession: 1992.5015 On view in:Not on view

[Triptych of Apollo 11 Moon Landing on Television Screen]

Artist: Unknown (American) Date: 1969 Medium: Gelatin silver prints Accession: 2014.494.1–.3 On view in:Not on view

[Cleopatra's Needle Obelisk, Central Park, New York]

Artist: Unknown (American) Date: 1880s Medium: Albumen silver print from glass negative Accession: 2014.547 On view in:Not on view

[Teheran, Iran]

Date: 1840s–60s Medium: Photographs Accession: 1977.683.1 On view in:Not on view