Elizabeth Pash, designer and owner of Elizabeth Pash Interiors & Antiques, shares one item you should be on the lookout for when shopping for antiques. This week, it’s sunburst mirrors, a design staple with a long history. We are aware that many are currently practicing social distancing, but we will continue to publish vintage shopping content (and ideas for online sources) in anticipation of the day we are all able to return to our favorite markets!
Sunburst mirrors have been part of design for years, even centuries. They have been re-interpreted on many occasions, fashioned from every possible material, in all sizes and finishes. They are anything but a new design trend. Although we see them everywhere, I still love them for their versatility and heritage. If made well with quality material, sunburst mirrors can be a welcome addition to any project and I always have them in my shop. They add a special bit of joy and happiness to a home!
What are the origins of the sunburst motif?
Some have speculated that Louis XIV of France, “The Sun King,” whose 72-year reign is the longest of any European monarch, invented the sunburst mirror. This seems logical, given the king’s love of the sun motif and of mirrors—seen most dramatically in the celebrated Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles. The King used the head of Apollo surrounded by rays of light as his personal “logo,” and during his reign many pieces of furniture and architectural elements were adorned with this motif. Certainly the Sun King’s style inspired artisans throughout Europe and helped make the sunburst mirror popular.
Other scholars have said that the sunburst as a decorative motif may have its roots in religious or ecclesiastical art dating back to medieval times. During the 17thcentury, the Catholic Church began using sunbursts or gilded rays as decoration on monstrances (where communion wafers were held) or as altar decoration.
In the 20th century, the sunburst mirror was reinterpreted and brought into fine homes around Europe. During the 1940s, the French artist and metalworker Gilbert Poillerat began creating wrought iron sunburst mirrors that put him on the map as one of the most creative artists of his generation.
Around this same time, the Parisian artist and jewelry designer Line Vautrin began to create unusual and beautiful sunburst mirrors using a material of her own invention, Talosel, which is similar to resin. These unique mirrors (shown below) have become collector’s items and can command very high prices in today’s market.
The sunburst mirror made its real debut in interior design during the Hollywood Regency period, (1920s-1950s), when it began to adorn the glamorous and glitzy homes of Hollywood’s elite designed by such iconic figures as Billy Haines and Dorothy Draper. This period was characterized by the bold use of color and opulent, overdone finishes, often with glass and metal accents—and it’s a style still popular today.
Sunburst mirrors today
These beloved mirrors reached a new wave of popularity in the 1970s and seem to be everywhere today. Sometimes they are used much more decorative than utilitarian reasons. For example, a round mirror helps to soften a room full of right angles. So, when selecting a round mirror, why not choose a sunburst? Vintage or contemporary, they bring happiness and whimsy to a room. A large sunburst can add a lot of glamour and drama to a room, whereas smaller ones look fabulous on a shelf or in a grouping.
How to decorate with sunburst mirrors
So, how to use them? Because of their versatility, they can go just about anywhere—an entry, over a mantel, in a dining room, or over a bed.
I love this bold sunburst in a living room designed by Meg Braff—they also make a great finishing touch over a bed.
Different kinds of sunbursts
Though metallic ones tend to be most popular, sunburst mirrors are not always made of wood or metal. Some of my favorite pieces are ones that are interpreted in different, unexpected materials:
Here are some I spotted in my travels:
Wood or resin, metal or wicker, these sunbursts seem to be around to stay. In my opinion, there is a sunburst for everyone and every home should have one!
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