Vision and Vanity: The Mirror in Renaissance Art and Culture 

Lacey Manuel

About Lacey

I believe that art has the ability to empower a community and foster social change but I also believe that art can function as an oppressive and corrupt force in our culture. It is my goal to critically examine these roles of art and work to make it more accessible, equitable, and intersectional. Through my time at Metro I have gained insights and knowledge on how to critique, question, and challenge the canon. It is a passion of mine to address issues of oppression and tradition in art in order to enact positive change in the world at large. 

About Lacey's Research

The mirror in Western art has traceable roots to ancient mythology and Judeo-Christian mythology. From Narcissus and Venus, to Eve and notions of Pride and Vanity, the symbol of the mirror encourages a gendering of its use. The binary trope that the symbolized mirror contributes to goes beyond gendering; it extends its reach to issues of morality and immorality, surface and substance, life and death. An analysis of the mirror in Renaissance art and culture, from the 15th and 16th centuries in Northern and Central Europe, provides and understanding to the complexity of its use. My research will show how the influence of mythology and religion exacerbated the oppressive functions of the mirror, especially through narratives of Pride, Vanity, and Superbia.

 ‘Woman with a mirror’ imagery used in religious contexts supported patriarchal control and suppressed the female gaze. I explore vision, gaze, and gender in this work to reveal the influence that the symbolized mirror had on Renaissance women. Their use of the mirror perpetuated an internalized male gaze and ideologies of the ‘surveyed female’. Women are framed in paintings by men, and then framed again in their own use of the mirror. In opposition, ‘Man with a mirror’ imagery and their use of it in Renaissance culture was more aligned with substance and intellectual mobility. The mirrors reflective capacities did not signify Pride or Vanity for men, it was instead a tool that enabled artists to explore perspective, dimension, and naturalism. I argue that women’s identity and agency is lost in the gendered rhetoric of the mirror.