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Traveling mirror with embroidery and raised work
English, third quarter of the 17th century
11.25 x 9.25 in. (28.6 x 23.5 cm)
As is typical with seventeenth-century English embroidery for caskets, boxes, and mirrors, this piece is worked in silk floss on a silk satin ground, with raised work added to give dimensionality. While most related needlework elements were made for stationary mirrors, with the needlework framing the exposed glass, for traveling mirrors, the embroidered components provide a decorative cover for the wooden doors. The left door depicts a woman, holding two flowers in her left hand, to represent the sense of smell; on the mirror's right door, a woman playing a lute symbolizes the sense of hearing. Along with these figural personifications, the monkey at the top left and the squirrel at the top right hold food to their mouths in allusion to taste.

While the expected flora, fauna, and architectural elements, including fountains with their own reflective connotations, surround the allegorical figures, at the mirror's top a stalking chameleon clings to a branch. This creature is not often seen among the animals that typically appear on seventeenth-century English embroideries, such as the butterfly, snail, and caterpillar on this piece, yet chameleons and related reptiles are among the menagerie of motifs provided to embroiderers in pattern books. A Schole-House for the Needle (1624), by Richard Shorleyker, includes a simple outline of a salamander, and A Book of Flowers, Fruits, Beasts, Birds, and Flies (1662), published by Peter Stent, includes a highly articulated engraving of a chameleon.

Extant travel mirrors of this type are scarcer than seventeenth-century mirrors made to hang in interiors. This example, small in scale for easy transport, features an easel stand on its back for steady placement on a table. The inside panels are lined with salmon silk embossed with a diaper pattern and outlined with silver tape trim. Salmon silk velvet covers the reverse and sides.

For more information, see the Cora Ginsburg 2019 catalogue.

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