Journal Article

A Mirror for Princes: The Ferrarese Mirror Frame in the V&A and the Instruction of Heirs

Tim Shephard

in Journal of Design History

Published on behalf of Design History Society

Volume 26, issue 1, pages 104-114
Published in print February 2013 | ISSN: 0952-4649
Published online November 2012 | e-ISSN: 1741-7279 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/jdh/eps049
A Mirror for Princes: The Ferrarese Mirror Frame in the V&A and the Instruction of Heirs

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This article examines a mirror frame bearing the device of Alfonso d’Este, Duke of Ferrara 1505–1534. The decoration of the mirror carries a moral message for its user. By newly identifying important motifs, I reveal the message also to have a dynastic component. By reference to contemporary documentation, I show that Alfonso was considered by his father and others to be in need of moral instruction during his early adulthood. I then identify several illuminating contexts for the mirror and its tone of dynastic instruction: contemporary advice to sons suggesting that they model themselves on older family members; other instructional furniture and decoration from late fifteenth-century Italy; and contemporary views on the relationship between a person’s appearance and their character. I draw these threads together to describe the function served by the mirror in fashioning Alfonso in a mould suitable for a young prince, and hypothesise the circumstances under which it came into his possession.

Keywords: decorative; identity; Italy; Renaissance

Journal Article.  7169 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of Art ; Art Forms ; Industrial and Commercial Art ; Art Styles

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