The Claude mirror is a pre-photographic 18th century (1700’s) optical instrument used for viewing, drawing and painting landscape.

It was used by holding it up at about arm’s length and eye height and, turning one’s back to the landscape view, looking at the reflection of the landscape in the mirror. Because it was black it changed colour saturation and tonal values. Because it slightly convex it miniaturised, contained and framed the view. Because it was a front surface lens light did not have to pass through it, as it did other lenses of the period. Glass of the time was still rather crude by today’s standards and the Claude mirror was the most optically perfect lens and lens based image of the time.

Who used it? Both amateur and professional artists, poets and tourists. In fact the claude mirror was so popular that most  late 18thc/early 19thc tourists, or someone in the touring group, would have had one.

Who were tourists? Well, they were not like you and me, they were well-off, as only the rich travelled for pleasure (unless you were an artist, then you travelled for work or with a patron). To travel for pleasure was also part of ones’s education; one was expected to take the grand tour of europe, see the world, see art, and draw. Drawing was part of every accomplished young man and young woman’s education.  It was also part of an army officer’s training. When touring the continent became too dangerous because of political unrest, revolution and war, the Brits turned to touring their own island. At first The roads were bad, inns were few and far between, trains did not exist and a good day’s travel by coach or on horse back might be about 25 miles. Tourism as we know it was just being invented, and had a long way to go.

But the Age of enlightenment was well on its way and with it came the industrial revolution and industrialised agriculture. The enclosure Movement changed the landscape  through the loss of wild, common and uncultivated land, and altered not just the appearance of land, but how people lived in and moved through a landscape.

Resistance and reaction to such political and social changes took many forms. One such resistance was called romanticism of which the picturesque was a part. Romanticism was a complex intellectual, and aesthetic movement with political implications. Today Romanticism is popularly known for its reverence towards nature and the emotions and is, at times, deemed to be frivolous and perhaps sentimental. But one need only look as far as William Blake to see the more obviously radical  and unorthodox aspects of romanticism. Romanticism was also a visceral, experimental response to the world as it was changing.

The claude mirror played a role in romanticism and the picturesque, although this near forgotten bit of art history is little understood and very underestimated . Romantic Artists were aware that one’s relationship to nature and place was heavily mediated by culture. many Romantic projects are an attempt to find a space between private experience and shared meaning. The claude mirror dramatizes the mediation of nature through technology and aesthetic ideas - essentially what a person carries into looking at their environment.

The Mediation of Nature, Green corridor 4