Reflecting on reflection

Before there were mirrors, the still surface of a pond or puddle was the most common way for us "to see ourselves as others see us." It is an obvious point, yet strange, considering that without mirrors or other reflective surfaces, none of us would know what our own faces look like. Not surprisingly, reflection in all its forms has been a favorite subject for painters through the ages.

Who better to illuminate the subject's many facets than British polymath, scientist, theatrical director, and amateur photographer Jonathan Miller? In this beautifully illustrated book, occasioned by a special exhibition at London's National Gallery, Miller discusses a fascinating range of topics.

He explains the psychology of human perception by answering such questions as: How are we able to distinguish a real from a reflected image? What makes a surface appear mirror-like? Miller also looks at artistic techniques, showing us how painters through the ages have represented not only mirror-reflections, but also such "shiny" qualities as luster, gloss, transparency, wetness, and sheen. He discusses how artists use highlights to lend texture and form to objects, and to impart the glow of animation to the eyes of portraits.

And finally, he examines some of the themes connected with the subject: mirrors as emblems of vanity, self-regard, introspection, illusion, not to mention narcissism!

From the exquisitely wrought still lifes and landscapes of the Dutch masters to Picasso's "Girl before a Mirror," the many illuminating full-color plates and illustrations offer a visual feast. For the countless artists who have been intrigued by reflections include Van Eyck, Drer, Titian, Rembrandt, Velzquez, and many more. Well-known photographers are also represented. Informative, stimulating, and entertaining, this book is a treat for the eye and the mind alike.

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