The World is a Mirror

Velazquez, Rokeby Venus (c.1644-8) Oil on canvas. National Gallery, London.

Like many stories conveying wisdom, this anonymous one is slightly silly. However, it suggests why so many masterpieces of painting, like Velazquez’s Las Meninas for instance, only make sense when its surface is seen as reflective. No doubt this story unravels his Rokeby Venus too (above) by explaining the mirror. I haven't reflected on it yet but I'm sure it does.

"A long time ago there lived a great shah. He ordered the construction of a beautiful palace that had many wonderful things in it. Among other curiosities, there was a hall where all the walls, the ceiling, the door and even the floor were made of mirrors. Moreover, the walls of this hall were made in a way that they created an extraordinarily loud echo.

Late one afternoon a dog ran into the hall and then froze in surprise. In the middle of the hall he saw a whole pack of dogs, which surrounded him from all sides. The confused and frightened dog bared his teeth, and all the reflections responded to him in the same way. He started to bark at his tormentors and the echo imitated the bark and increased it many times. He barked even harder, but the echo was keeping up with his bark and became louder. The dog jumped from side to side and spun around in circles biting at the images of the other dogs, but found only air.

In the morning the guards found the dog lifeless, surrounded by many reflections of lifeless dogs. There was nobody in the hall that could have done any harm to the dog. The dog died from exhaustion, fighting his own reflections.

The world is not good or evil; the world doesn't bring good and evil to us. How we view the world around us is the reflection of our own experiences, attachments, thoughts, emotions and actions. The world is merely a mirror."

For an explanation of Las Meninas, go here. And for other reflections on and in art, see examples under the theme Mirrors.

Posted 15 Apr 2015: Mirrors / Reflection

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