Skip to main content

The History of Mirrors

Mirrors and Mankind

Mirrors have been used for many centuries for beauty and other purposes.

Mirrors have been used for many centuries for beauty and other purposes.

The Mirror Invention is both Simple and Complex

Mirrors are part science, part psychology, part beauty, part art, part magic, and part reality.

They exist in our everyday life. Mirrors are a piece of the history of mankind, and a piece of history of the person in the reflection. The mirror invention impacted man in many ways.

To science, mirrors are both simple and complex tools that are used in telescopes, cameras, for solar power, lasers, optical instruments, and many other uses. Psychologically, mirrors create a self awareness, and affect our self concept.

Prior to the mirror invention, people only had a vague idea of how they looked. Mirrors have had an impact on fashion, glamour, makeup, and the world around us.

Mirrors have influenced art. Using light to reflect back where it came from, mirrors use electrons in atoms and photons of light to create a reflection. It seems so high tech for something that is so simple. And mirrors help us see about our own place in society.

Mirrors have had a significant impact on mankind. In the earliest of times, before mirrors existed, people probably only had a sense of what they looked like from reflection of pools of water.

Evidence has been found from ancient Chinese bronze mirrors, that they were really shallow jars made of bronze that contained water and could reflect the person’s face. As time progressed, mirrors improved, yet the earliest of mirrors were quite imperfect.

It is believed the first mirrors were made around 8000 B.C. from naturally produced volcanic glass, such as obsidian, a polished stone. Mirrors made from polished bronze, go back to 4000 B. C. By the 5th century B.C., the Greeks used various other polished metals to make mirrors. In these early periods, the mirrored reflections would not be nearly as clear as they are today. Ancient Egyptians are often depicted, holding hand mirrors up to their face.

Hand Held Mirrors From the Past

The mirror invention has long been used to see our reflection.

The mirror invention has long been used to see our reflection.

Mirrors in History

Over time, glass came to be used in the mirrors, dating between the 1st and 3rd century A.D. These mirrors were small, probably measuring just a few inches in diameter. There were some glass mirrors from the Roman Empire that were big enough to see a person’s entire body.

During the Dark or Middle ages, glass mirrors disappeared. It was believed the devil was watching from the other side of the glass mirrors. Only polished mirrors made from metal, or special bowls of water were used as reflections. After the fall of the Roman Empire, in about the 14th century, glassmakers started to make mirrors of thinner glass, and used hot metal over it, which refined the quality of the mirrors.

Mirrors began to arrive again in th 13th century. They were now created with a slightly outward bent. Glassmakers would pour hot tin into glass tubs. When the tin turned cold, the glaziers would brake the tin into separate pieces. In 1373, in Nuremberg Germany, the very first plant to manufacture mirrors opened. Mirrors became more readily produce

Most women of the time used handheld mirrors. The mirrors were usually worn on a chain around their neck or their waist, and treated like precious jewelry. They were encased in well crafted turtle shells or elephant bones, which were exotic materials. The frames of the mirrors were designed with gold and silver with miniature elegant engravings.

Mirror Making Throughout History

Mirrors were also used by the French and Spanish spies to code and decode secret messages in the 1500’s for nearly 200 years. The secret code was first introduced by Leonardo Da Vinci in the 1400’s. Scriptures were written using the reflection of the mirror. Without the mirror, someone could not read the code.

Around this same time, the periscope was invented, using mirrors. During the 30 year war, mirrors were used by each side to blind their enemies with the reflection of sunlight. It became nearly impossible for the enemy to aim at their target if they were blinded by hundreds or thousands of tiny mirrors.

By the 15th century, Venetian glass makers began to improve the mirror invention, using Cristallo glass, a clear and colorless glass, invented by Angelo Barovier, a glassmaker in Venice. Murano, an island off of Venice. was known as the Isle of Glass and became the center of glass-making.

They eagerly protected the secrets and techniques they used for glass making. Highly skilled glass makers were secretly brought to the island of Murano as firefighters to keep them isolated from the everyone else so that they created a kind of monopoly in mirror production. There was tremendous profits to be garned from mirror making.

They invented a way to create a flat mirror, and were able to add gold and bronze, which helped objects look more beautiful than they really were. Large Venetian mirrors, at the time, were as expensive as naval ship. Naturally, not many people could afford to have mirrors in their home.

Scroll to Continue

Mirror Mirror on the Wall

Mirrors were very ornate, long ago.

Mirrors were very ornate, long ago.

Mirrors and Royalty

Monarchs in Europe tried to figure out the secrets to Venetian glass making. In the 17th century, the minister of Ludwig XIV, named Colbert bribed 3 Murano glass makers with gold and brought them to France. The French took the Venetian techniques and invented their own way to produce mirrors. Venetian glass makers used glass blowing.The French used a casting technique by pouring glass into cast molds.

As the glass cooled, they smoothed it out using special rollers and achieved a mirror with perfectly smooth consistency. Shortly after this method was developed, the Mirrors Gallery in Versailles was created. This gallery was 220 feet in length and included 306 very large mirrors. Near the end of the 1500’s Maria De Medici, the French Queen, created a mirrored office. 119 mirrors were bought in Venice and brought to France. The Venetian glaziers created a unique large mirror embellished with precious stones as a gift to her, for her purchase. Today, the mirror sits in the Louvre, in Paris.

Many royal kings and queens became mirror collectors, including King Henry VIII of England, and the King of France, Francis I.

In the 1666, the Russian Orthodox Church prohibited their priests from owning mirrors. Superstitions started to emerge around mirrors. Superstitions like breaking a mirror brought 7 years of bad luck. When a mirror was broken, the person who broke it, needed to apoogize to the mirror and bury it respectfully.

Mirrors and the Renaissance

By the 16th century, mirrors started to show a clear reflection. The improvement of mirrors, seemed to coincide with the beginning of the Renaissance. The Renaissance is known as a period of new ideas, the revival of art, and a renewal of classics from Ancient Greece and Rome,which had vanished when the Dark Ages, or Middle Ages began.

It might be interesting to think that mirrors, and the psychological and scientific impact they had on man, may have helped spur the Renaissance, and birth of the modern age.

Some say Leonardo Da Vinci’s painting, the Mona Lisa, is a self portrait of himself as a woman. If this is so, how could he have painted it, without a mirror.

Da Vinci encouraged artists to use mirrors to help them see the creation they would put on canvas. Many scientific inventions, during the Renaissance, used mirrors. The mirror invention, truly allowed people to see themselves in a new way.

Mirrors in Other Cultures

Mirrors were used differently in Western cultures, from that of Eastern cultures. The mirrors in Japan, were often used to help people contemplate about their innermost selves. Mirrors were not used to merely reflect their own image, but thought of as sacred objects. They were kept for a special use, even if used to groom themselves, and never used as wall decorations. These mirrors were made of high quality and well crafted steel or bronze. These mirrors were less reflective than those used in the west. It reflected only 20%, approximately of the light that would hit it, and they were slightly colored.The mirror invention is truly an amazing development in the history of civilization.

The Many Uses of Mirrors

Mirrors are used for many purposes and in many professions.

Mirrors are used for many purposes and in many professions.

The Many Uses of Mirrors

Mirrors help us see a reflection of ourselves, one we think may look like us, but isn’t a totally true image of what we look like to others. Mirrors help us see truths about ourselves, yet the reflection is the opposite of reality. Mirrors can be malformed, like a fun house mirrors, and show us untruths.

Mirrors help us see ourselves in ways we can not, unless we look at ourselves. Mirrors can be shallow instruments of vanity. Mirrors can make us question, who we really are, at a deeper level. Mirrors help us see who we are in this world, and give us a perception about ourselves.

Mirrors show us a bigger world around us than we can see ourselves. They show us behind us, reflecting to some degree, where we have come from.Mirrors are fairly simple inventions. They have hardly changed over time. A mirror from you great grandparents, if kept in good condition, will work just as well as one made today. They involve no high tech innovations to work.

Mirrors help us judge distance, the path of objects, and help construct an environment that is larger than our eyes could see without it. They are simple tools, yet they affect the psychology of ourselves, our place in the world, our perception of things, in a very deep and complicated way. When we drive in a car, the mirrors show us where we have been. When we look in a mirror and see a reflection of ourselves, we are preparing to go forward. Mirrors show us a bigger scene, and mirrors can alter our reality and create an illusion.

How Mirrors Affect Us Psychologically

Most research has shown that mirrors subtly affect our behavior. When participants in a research study, were put in a room with mirrors, researchers observed that the subjects worked harder, were less inclined to cheat, and were more helpful to others, compared to control groups who did the same experiment without a mirror.

C. Neil Macrae, Galen V. Bodenhausen and Alan B. Milne conducted this survey and reported that people in a room with a mirror appeared to be stereotyped other people less regarding race, religion, and sex.
People who are more self aware, thought more about what they were doing.

It seemed that a mirror encouraged people to be more self conscious about themselves and placed less emphasis on their judgment of others. Seeing themselves outwardly in the mirror, prompted them to think about themselves inwardly.Today, medicine uses mirror therapy to help patients who have lost limbs it to heal quicker.

The mirror is used to treat phantom limb syndrome, for stroke victims who are dealing with paralysis, and people with chronic pain to trick the brain into helping heal the patient.Mirrors have a rich history, and a bright future.

This simple mirror invention has impacted mankind in so many aspects throughout time. There inventions yet to be created that will use mirrors. There are things the reflection we see of ourselves in a mirror, we are yet to discover about

  • Popularity of Converse Chuck Taylor All Stars Shoes
    Sneakers, basketball, and a world class salesman combine to make athletic shoe history by selling more pairs of athletic footwear, than any other shoes ever. Converse and Chuck Taylor created the most popular, best selling sports shoe of all time,...
  • Evolution of the Zipper - From Neanderthal Man to Mo...
    Today, you can find zippers on nearly everything, from all sorts of clothing, luggage, pencil cases, pocketbooks, shoes, and so much more. 90% of zippers are manufactured in Japan with The YKK Company, being the biggest manufacturer. Zippers are...


Robert Remy from Eagle River, Alaska on September 09, 2017:

Very informative. I have a glass maker Ancestry with a 1% trace in south Asia. I'm whiter than 2% milk. The theory is that they came from Egypt prior to India. I read that the mirror was rumored to be created in the Himalayas, etc. My 1 and only article goes more in depth and you may find it has much in common with this article. on November 23, 2013:

who invented a mirror that Drs have in their office you can see only outside??

Virginia Kearney from United States on September 30, 2012:

Interesting history of this everyday object! It will certainly make me think twice during my "mirror time" in the morining!

Related Articles