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Mirror

  • Place of origin:

    Italy (made)

  • Date:

    1680-1710 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Mirror glass framed by carved and gilded wood (lime or poplar)

  • Museum number:

    288-1864

  • Gallery location:

    Europe 1600-1815, Room 7, The Sheikha Amna Bint Mohammed Al Thani Gallery, case SC3, shelf EAST

Monumental carved and gilded mirrors, usually placed above console tables, were a fundamental element of Italian baroque interiors. During the day they helped to magnify the effect of daylight from the windows, and in the evening they reflected the glimmer of candlelight. Although the original location of this particular mirror is unknown, it would probably have hung above a console table against a wall of a state room, in the arrangement that can still be seen in Italian interiors such as the galleries of Palazzo Colonna and Palazzo Doria-Pamphilj in Rome.

The design of this mirror is in keeping with the baroque style that emerged in Rome in the 1620s and became popular throughout Italy and, subsequently, Europe. It is vigorously carved with an abundance of scrolling acanthus, creating a magnificent effect made even more magnificent with gilding. The use of naturalistic motifs such as acanthus is characteristic of the Italian baroque, and can be seen in the designs of Bernini and his follower Giovanni Paolo Schor, as well as in many anonymous pieces of surviving Italian baroque furniture, ranging from console tables and mirrors to coaches. Overall, the style of the mirror is like that of 2 engraved designs for mirrors or frames that appear on plate 15 of Filippo Passarini's Nuove inventioni d'ornamenti, published in Rome in 1698.

Physical description

Mirror in a frame of carved and gilded wood, identified visually as lime or poplar. The pierced carving comprises scrolling foliage in high relief, and incorporates a winged mask among the leaves on the bottom edge. The cresting on the top of the mirror is a separate piece. The mirror glass appears to be original.

Construction
The mirror is made up of a shallow sub-frame made from 4 large sections of wood (lime or poplar). Four large metal plates attached with screws hold the sections together. The protruding leaves are carved into secondary and third pieces of applied wood. The top section of the mirror (approx. 12 inches from the top) is separate and is made up of two vertical pieces and like the rest is made of a shallow ‘sub’ frame and applied carved leaves. The top of this top section slopes forwards. All the leaves have been broken off in the past and some have been re attached in the wrong location since some details of carving do not line up or have filled joins, such as veining in the leaves that should line up with the main frame. There are inserts of wood between the main sub-frame and some of the protruding leaves. It is not clear if all of these are original or if they have also been re attached in the wrong areas, although they appear to have the same gilded surface as the rest. There are 6 areas of missing leaves.

Decorative Surface
Most of the surface retains its original water gilding which consists of a thick gesso ground, orange bole & gold leaf. One half of the mirror (on a vertical axis) is burnished, the other not, but it is not clear why this should be.

Hanging fittings
There are several old holes probably from previous hanging fittings which go right through the ‘sub frame. It is not obvious which are the holes for the original hanging fittings. There are several old (possibly original) round headed nails at the top and bottom at the back, which have remains of fibres behind, possibly from a dust cloth attached to the back.

Glass plate
The glass appears to be original despite its newish appearance from the front, silvered with mercury-tin amalgam. The mirror back is covered with a large back board which appears contemporary with the rest of the mirror and held in with rusting hand-cut nails. Tool marks, possibly executed by a bush plane can be seen on both the back board and the back of the frame. The back board is made of two pieces of wood, now warped, which protrude beyond the level of the back of the mainframe. At the sight edge adjacent to the mirror, some carved detail seems to have been removed.

Conserved 2015.

Place of Origin

Italy (made)

Date

1680-1710 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Mirror glass framed by carved and gilded wood (lime or poplar)

Dimensions

Height: 2780 mm, Width: 1500 mm, Depth: 180 mm

Object history note

The register states that this mirror and frame were purchased for £50 at the sale of William Makepeace Thackeray's house contents by Messrs Christie, Manson & Wood on 16-17 March 1864, but no item described in the catalogue matches the mirror. The Museum register states that the mirror was repaired in October, 1866, but does not give details of what repairs were undertaken. At some point in its history some of the acanthus fronds were broken and have been replaced, not always in the correct position. The gilding of the mirror frame appears to have only been burnished on one half: it is not yet clear when or why this occurred.

A very similar frame, but holding a painting rather than a looking-glass, appears in a watercolour by Joseph Nash of the state drawing room at Stowe in 1845. This watercolour is now in the Royal Collection. Other similarly elaborate frames, although none that are that similar in design and shape, can be found in numerous private and public collections in Italy, dating from the middle of the 17th century to the early 18th century.

The rather elongated, flattened acanthus leaves of this mirror are not unlike those in the famous suite of baroque furniture in the Meli Lupi collection at the Rocca di Soragna. Overall, the style of the mirror is like that showcased in Filippo Passarini's Nuove inventioni d'ornamenti, published in Rome in 1698. Plate 15 in Passarini's publication shows designs for two large mirrors or frames above console tables, both frames characterised by an abundant use of scrolling acanthus.

Descriptive line

Carved and gilded mirror, Italian, c.1680-1710

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Sabatelli, Franco (ed.), La cornice italiana dal rinascimento al neoclassico (Milan, 1992)
Colle, Enrico, Il mobile barocco in Italia: arredi e decorazioni d'interni dal 1600 al 1738 (Milan, 2000)

Materials

Mirror glass; Wood

Techniques

Hand carving; Gilding

Categories

Frames; Furniture

Collection

Furniture and Woodwork Collection

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