From ancient myths to classic literature to urban legends, mirrors have long played a role in numerous cultures throughout time, space and history. They have served as an inspiration for painters, authors and designers, and made appearances in works of art from Yayoi Kusama’s infinity mirror rooms to the Brothers Grimm’s Snow White. From the 21st century all the way back to the ancient times, mirrors have served as a valuable resource for many in performing the daily ritual of self-admiration. Yet many people hardly ever stop to think about the fascinating history and science behind the common everyday object.
Thousands of years ago, bronze mirrors appeared in ancient China, Egypt, the Islamic World and either Rome or Greece. Collections in art museums like the Cantor Arts Center, Metropolitan Museum of Art and the RISD Museum among others hold ancient bronze mirrors that date as far back as the fifteenth century B.C.
Centuries later, artists such as René Magritte incorporated mirrors and windows into their paintings while artists like Albrecht Durer and Parmigianino made historical self-portraiture where a mirror was obviously used in making the paintings, according to Professor Nancy Troy, a Stanford professor of art history.
Usually made through the process of silvering, where a thin layer of silver or aluminum is applied onto the back of a piece of clear glass, mirrors are extremely smooth, even under the microscope. According to “Physics 9 Edition,” a textbook by John D. Cutnell and Kenneth W. Johnson, instead of scattering light, mirrors are able to send the light that hits it back in a specific direction in a process called specular reflection. The smoothness of the mirror and its ability to be a good electrical conductor so that the light reflects instead of penetrates are all factors that contribute to helping a mirror create a reflection.
Today, there are many types of mirrors out there. Some mirrors have been designed for fun, and some for function or fashion. According to Dave Stellman, owner of Palo Alto Glass, the types of mirrors found in the average house can range from low-iron mirrors to mirrors with frames, mirrors with beveled edges, mirrors made from silvering standard clear glass and mirrors of different thicknesses.