Monday, April 16, 2012

PAIR of Vintage Spanish Sunburst Mirrors

Two weeks ago at the Round Top Antiques Show, I purchased a PAIR of vintage Spanish Sunburst Mirrors. These 15" diameter carved gilt wood mirrors are in an 18th century Spanish style from the early 2nd quarter of the 20th century.  I had to purchase these vintage sunburst mirrors as they are becoming more and more difficult to find and pairs of these are even rarer.

The name given to this type of mirror seems quite obvious – they mimic the sun and rays of sunshine. The center is typically a flat or convex mirror and gilded wooden “rays” radiate from the center. If you look at any current decorating magazine you’re bound to see at least one Sunburst Mirror within its pages – probably more. Sunburst Mirrors have been in and out of “vogue” for years.

The first image depicting a sunburst mirror in room design is seen in Jan van Eyck’s 1434 painting, Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and his Wife. This oil painting on oak depicts the newly married couple in their home in the Flemish city of Bruges. In this painting you can see numerous signs of wealth including the convex mirror in a wooden frame. This mirror is cited as one of van Eyck’s “departures from realism” as the mirror was larger than such mirrors could have actually been made at the time.

The Arnolfini Marriage (Courtesy of Wikipedia)

Detail of convex mirror in painting.

Although this painting dates back to 1434, current legend has it that the French King, Louis XIV, known as “Le Roi Soleil” or “Sun King” is responsible for the popularity of this mirror design. In 1653 a teen aged Louis XIV performed in a series of dances in the Ballet de la Nuit. For his final piece in this ballet he appeared as Apollo, god of the sun, wearing a golden corselet and a kilt of golden rays.  After this performance Louis XIV chose the sun as his royal symbol. The actual symbol became the head of Apollo surrounded by rays of light. Apollo was the god of music, poetry, plague, oracles, sun, medicine, light and knowledge and was the heavenly body that gave life to all things. (Louis XIV obviously had a healthy sense of self-worth!)

Some historians caution though that we should not attribute the design of the Sunburst Mirror to Louis XIV. This camp of historians believe that mirrors in this design were actually an unexpected result of the French Revolution. These historians believe that French Revolutionaries stormed monasteries and churches and took away gilded aureoles of celestial rays (halos) that circled above statues of the Holy Family and Saints. These empty halos were subsequently purchased by collectors and antique dealers who then placed mirrors into the empty circular space creating what would become known as the "sunburst mirror!"

Whatever history you choose to believe - whether Louis XIV or the French Revolutionaries created the sunburst mirror - most of us will agree that the sunburst mirror is a beautiful design and is an eye-catching feature in interior design. And, who can be sad with the sun radiating from within a room?

Here are some beautiful rooms made even more beautiful by the use of sunburst mirrors. Enjoy!

Photo courtesy of Veranda Magazine

Designer: Amy Howard
Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of Southern Accents

Au revoir, Mitty

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