The Claude Glass

Once I found out I’d been accepted into the postgrad program (with a scholarship – paid to make art! woo!) I began feverishly reading just about anything I could find on optics. Along with David Hockney’s excellent book The Secret Knowledge, I found on a shelf nearby an even more intriguing book The Claude Glass: Use and Meaning of the Black Mirror in Western Art by Arnaud Maillet. After reading the wee tome and it’s descriptions of 18th century folk hobnobbing all over the Lakes District with their pocket-sized convex glasses – peering into the reflections they gave instead of being immersed in the here and now (much like us moderns and our digital cameras) I became convinced that I needed to see one.

one of a kind Claude Glass or Black Mirror in hand carved linden wood frame.

one of a kind claude glass or black mirror in hand carved linden wood frame.
photograph by Steve Wilson

Just as the book said – these once common items are now as rare as hen’s teeth. Only one could I find mention of – cloistered away on the other side of the planet in the Victoria and Albert Museum. Undaunted I decided to make one. Maillet gives an excellent description of the glasses giving the best reflections as being made of black glass (rather than clear glass with a tain) and being slightly convex. I spoke with a fellow artisan who specialises in convex glass – we sourced the materials and made two ovals and a circle. The circle I played with first. Or decorated first, I suppose, as all I’ve really done is muse over the terms “who’s the fairest of them all” and imagined scenarios in which visitors to an exhibition would use the mirror to see themselves in some kind of freakish steampunk landscape painted on the wall behind them – completely impractical, of course. In any case the looking glass result is unorthodox, but inviting and mesmerising. The larger oval is next on my to-do list and will have a for-the-wall type frame. The smaller oval is already promised to a painter who saw this one in my studio and fell in thrall (and whose work I deeply admire).

I also have to show you the work of Emma Wieslander. Her photographic work is inspired by the Claude Glass. What I especially love about this work is that the artworks themselves are glass circles, rather than prints in a frame.

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