(Or how to make your own 17th Century selfie app)
There’s a new art installation at Wimpole Hall celebrating the tercentenary of Capability Brown’s birth this year. It takes the form of a series of large-scale easels marching across the park. Each easel is composed of a Claude mirror* and they come in different shapes, are tinted in different colours and have different landscape emphasis. The idea is to get people to pause and consider the view of the landscape through CB’s eyes and maybe do a spot of painting, photography etc., while having a bit of fun.
Here is one at the top of the hill situated to show the lakes and folly:
*Claude mirrors (or glasses) were portable drawing aids, popular in the 18th and 19th centuries, which were used by landscape artists and tourists to frame a view. They were typically hand-sized, often sepia or brown-tinted, convex mirrors. Using such a mirror to look at the landscape you would see a distorted (fish-eye) perspective and compressed saturation and tonal values. This resulted in a reflection looking like the much admired landscapes of 17th Century painter Claude Lorrain, hence the name.
Claude Lorrain was a french artist, working mostly in Italy, whose baroque paintings were appreciated for their classical landscapes and subtle gradation of tones. The landscapes were often staged to include gods and heroes, i.e. many were works of pure theatre. Claude particularly liked to paint scenes at dusk or dawn, comprised of mellow colours, pink-tinged clouds and dark foregrounds.
A century later Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown was similarly creating idealised landscapes in the estates around the country. Wimpole was one of them and so the ‘Scene: A new way of looking’ art installation, combining the notions of both these great men, was born.
Anyway, having seen some of the easels I thought that I might like a Claude mirror for myself, but nobody sells them these days, so I resorted to making one. In fact there are already online instructions showing how you might do this.
The first hurdle to overcome was finding some appropriately sized convex glass. You have to think outside the box a bit to get hold of bubble glass, but I found an old alarm clock face did the trick. Then I sprayed the back of the glass with black paint (to approximate a dark tint). I think black is slightly extreme, but it was a first model. Once the paint dried I took the mirror outside and was suitably impressed with the moody reflection seen in the glass.
When I had a walk around the park at Wimpole to see the installations I took my Claude mirror with me too. It was an interesting experiment. The mirrors on the easels had clearly better tints and brighter images, but I liked the convexed view in my hand-held one too.
However, the major downside of the fisheye view is the unavoidable inclusion of the mirror holder in any scene.
Yes, it looks like this is the equivalent of a 17th century selfie app.
Or maybe I am just the goddess or heroine in this picture!