(Roughly) Daily

“Gussie, a glutton for punishment, stared at himself in the mirror”*…

 

Anonymous, Marcia Painting Self-Portrait Using Mirror (detail), in Giovanni Boccaccio’s De Mulieribus Claris, c. 1403. Bibliothèque Nationale de France.

Polished metal and obsidian mirrors have existed from ancient times, and because of this, historians have usually passed over the introduction of the glass mirror as if it was just another variation on an old theme. But the development of glass mirrors marks a crucial shift, for they allowed people to see themselves properly for the first time, with all their unique expressions and characteristics. Polished metal mirrors of copper or bronze were very inefficient by comparison, reflecting only about 20 percent of the light; and even silver mirrors had to be exceptionally smooth to give any meaningful reflection. These were also prohibitively expensive: most medieval people would only have glimpsed their faces darkly, reflected in a pool of water.

The convex glass mirror was a Venetian invention of about 1300, possibly connected with the development of the glass lenses used in the earliest spectacles (invented in the 1280s). By the late fourteenth century, you could find such mirrors in northern Europe. The future Henry IV of England paid 6d to have the glass of a broken mirror replaced in 1387. Four years later, while traveling in Prussia, he paid £1 3s. 8d in sterling for “two mirrors of Paris” for his own use. His son, Henry V, had three mirrors in his chamber at the time of his death in 1422, two of which were together worth £1 3s. 2d. Although these were still far too expensive for an average farmer or tradesman, in 1500 the prosperous city merchant could afford such an item. In this respect, the individual with disposable income differed greatly from his ancestor in 1400: he could see his own reflection and thus knew how he appeared to the rest of the world…

The very act of a person seeing himself in a mirror or being represented in a portrait as the center of attention encouraged him to think of himself in a different way. He began to see himself as unique. Previously the parameters of individual identity had been limited to an individual’s interaction with the people around him and the religious insights he had over the course of his life. Thus individuality as we understand it today did not exist: people only understood their identity in relation to groups—their household, their manor, their town or parish—and in relation to God…

From Ian Mortimer‘s “The Mirror Effect- How the rise of mirrors in the fifteenth century shaped our idea of the individual.”

* P.G. Wodehouse, Right Ho, Jeeves

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As we snap that selfie, we might spare a thought for David Émile Durkheim; he died on this date in 1917.  A French sociologist, social psychologist and philosopher, he formally established the academic discipline and—with Karl Marx and Max Weber—is commonly cited as the principal architect of modern social science and father of sociology.

Kant postulates God, since without this hypothesis morality is unintelligible. We postulate a society specifically distinct from individuals, since otherwise morality has no object and duty no roots.

– Durkheim, Sociology and philosophy (1911), D. Pocock, trans. (1974), p. 51.

 source

 

Written by LW

November 15, 2016 at 1:01 am

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