Throughout his life, Lichtenstein consistently returned to issues of vision and perception. In the late 1960s he studied the pictorial conventions for representing mirrors and reflections in commercial catalogues. He also photographed real mirrors, tilting them under different sources of light to understand their effects.
The paintings that followed presented coded renderings of mirrors where reflections are conveyed through an intricate composition of Benday dots. By 1972, Lichtenstein had painted almost fifty versions in different shapes: circular, oval, rectangular. Ever since Leonardo da Vinci called the true artist a ‘mirror of nature’, mirrors have symbolised painting itself, and their depiction within paintings has been a sign of the artist’s mastery.
Entering this tradition, Lichtenstein turns it on its head while retaining its essential painterly quality. As in some of Lichtenstein’s earlier black and white ‘object-paintings’, each mirror, each object, fills the canvas, creating a mock trompe l’oeil that fools nobody’s eye – and which produces no real reflections except depicted ones that lie on the surface as paint.
Lichtenstein described the Entablature as ‘a Minimalist painting that has a Classical reference’. In ancient architecture, the entablature was a support and decorative band at the top of a column. However, rather than look at examples from Greece or Rome, Lichtenstein was interested in the way the motif had been appropriated and evolved in modern America, particularly as a symbolic carrier of statehood and capitalism. Unusually, he based the paintings on photographs that he himself had taken of institutional buildings around Wall Street, New York’s financial centre.