Skip to main content

Distributed for Reaktion Books

The Full-Length Mirror

A Global Visual History

Beautifully illustrated, a stirring and wide-ranging reflection on art, technology, culture—and the full-length mirror.
 
This book tells two stories about the full-length mirror. One story, through time and space, crisscrosses the globe to introduce a broad range of historical actors: kings and slaves, artists and writers, merchants and craftsmen, courtesans, and commoners. The other story explores the connections among objects, painting, and photography, the full-length mirror providing a new perspective on historical artifacts and their images in art and visual culture. The Full-Length Mirror represents a new kind of global art history in which “global” is understood in terms of both geography and visual medium, a history encompassing Europe, Asia, and North America, and spanning over two millennia from the fourth century BCE to the early twentieth century.

288 pages | 70 color plates, 90 halftones | 6 1/4 x 8 1/4 | © 2022

History: General History

History of Science


Reaktion Books image

View all books from Reaktion Books

Reviews

"While the ancient Greeks, Romans, and Chinese attempted to build large reflective devices, the first full-length mirrors as we know them date back to seventeenth-century Europe. Hung’s illustrated history shows how large mirrors crisscrossed the globe and gave viewers new perspectives on their visual environments. Regarded by the Greco-Romans as possessing supernatural powers, large mirrors later came to be viewed as a means of discovering the self. The book begins with a detailed history of these 'alluring objects,' as Hung calls them, before shifting to an investigation of full-length mirror portraiture, a popular nineteenth-century artistic form, and the use of mirrors in the work of Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray."

University of Chicago Magazine

“As has been the case with the numerous other books Wu Hung has offered us, The Full-Length Mirror is a significant work that aptly displays his original ideas, lucid writing and unparalleled erudition: no full-length mirror will ever be large enough to reflect the towering presence and shadow he has marked on art history and Sinology.”

J. P. Park, June and Simon Li Professor in the History of Art, University of Oxford

“In an impressive sweep across time and space, enlivened by penetrating insights, this very readable study uses the full-length mirror as a point of entry into a highly stimulating range of questions about technologies, representations, and the connections between them.”

Craig Clunas, Professor Emeritus of the History of Art, University of Oxford

“In this highly original and enthralling study, Hung takes readers on a journey across time, space, and media to explore how emperors as well as ordinary individuals in both China and Europe used full-length mirrors to express power, desire, memory and the self. The images are as stunning as the insights.”

Meredith Martin, Associate Professor of Art History, New York University

"Hung recounts how reflective glass did more than cater to vanity over the millenniums. An ancient Chinese ruler known as the Muddle-Headed Marquis was buried with a bronze mirror trimmed in paintings of fierce beasts, which he was convinced would bring prosperity and 'dispel evil and inauspiciousness.' Mirrors enabled wealthy ancient Romans to observe their bodily functions in bathrooms and bedrooms. Louis XIV’s henchmen used industrial espionage to steal Venetian mirror-making formulas, which called for toxic layers of mercury. And American abolitionist photographers posed formerly enslaved people alongside mirrors. The simultaneous face and profile views made for emotionally powerful photos, which were sold for the benefit of schools for Black children. As the book suggests, there was anxiety over reflections, too, which long predated vampire novels and starlets; an emperor in seventh-century China once ripped out his mirrors after a government minister warned that the ruler’s images 'scattered everywhere' in the halls of power posed a risk of offending the gods."

The New York Times Design Section

Be the first to know

Get the latest updates on new releases, special offers, and media highlights when you subscribe to our email lists!

Sign up here for updates about the Press