The use of a mirror reflection is a widely spread trick that both photographs and painters eagerly exploit in their works. A mirror reflection can serve to perform different functions. In some case, it brings in some mystery to the entire compositions since the symbol of a mirror is commonly associated with an entry to a different unexplored reality. Under different conditions, a mirror reflection can be used as a supplementary tool for organizing the space in a painting or a photograph. As such, an artist can create the illusion of eternity, prolonging and extending the space of a depicted room or hall with the help of mirror reflections. In this frame, it might be proposed to compare the two works – the “Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and his Wife” by Van Eyck and “Ambassade d’Autriche, 57 rue de Varenne” by Eugène Atget – in order to analyze the way a painting and a photograph benefit from the use of a mirror reflection.
In Van Eyck’s painting “Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and his Wife,” the mirror reflection is not the central element of the composition. Thus, a viewer might not even perceive it at first sight. In the meantime, a closer look at the painting allows one to see that the little mirror placed in the middle of the background wall plays an important role. In fact, it extends the room’s boundaries so that it is impossible to say where it ends. A similar extension of space with the help of a mirror reflection can be seen in the photograph “Ambassade d’Autriche, 57 rue de Varenne” made by Eugène Atget. There is only one object that the photographer captured – a mirror. However, the viewer sees an endless space; it seems that this hotel room has no boundaries at all.
It is likewise essential to note that apart from the physically present mirror, Van Eyck uses a mirror-related allegory. As such, the husband and the wife are depicted in such a manner that they seem to be a mirror reflection of one another. Their gestures, postures, and general appearance are not exactly similar; meanwhile, one is likely to experience a persistent sensation that they are one and the same person divided by an invisible mirror glass. This mirror-like metaphor creates an impression of a miracle, of something secret and mystic that the painter did not want to reveal but preferred to leave a hidden hint for the audience. The same impression is translated by Atget’s photograph – the mirror reflection transforms a room into an enigmatical place that conceals myriads of untold stories and secrets.
Another example of how painting techniques have been smoothly transmitted to the photography industry is the Pablo Picasso’s “Girl before a Mirror” opposite to Diane Arbus’s “Self-Portrait.” In the former case, the painter uses a mirror to turn an ordinary portrait into a more complex and meaningful piece – the mirror reflection adds some mysterious implication to the painting’s plot. It is essential to note that these paintings shows both the depicted girl and her mirror reflection, and their images defer slightly hinting at the distorted self-perception that humans are exposed to experience Arbus’s “Self-Portrait” is likewise build on the “mirror reflection” trick with the only exception that the viewer cannot see the woman’s real image but is only welcomed to examine her reflection. In both cases, the creators take a reserved position, letting a mirror create its own portrait.