Mirrors During the Reinassance Period
By Helen Costantino Fioratti
The late seventeenth-century carved mirror frame over a table of rock forms with dogs seemingly barking, leaves and blackberries by the famous Genoese sculptor Filippo Parodi (1630-1702) is in the Palazzo Rosso, Genoa. It had winged angels above, putti below, lions on the sides, shells, volutes-(almost every known decorative device). It was made for the Villa Durazzo in Albisola, probably by 1661. The mirror frame was far more important than the slender mirror within it. In a Vite (Life) by Carlo Giuseppe Ratti, he wrote of the strict rapport between Filippo Parodi and the prolific Genoese baroque artist Domenico Piola (1627-1703). Ratti wrote that “nulla senza disegno del Piola ci facea” which may not be true as Parodi’s work surpassed that of the painter who was supposed to be his designer.
Between the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, mirrors evolved into distinct pieces of furniture, rather than primarily being incorporated into the decor. Mirrors could become monumental in themselves or, placed over a console or a chest-of-drawers, were part of a decorative unit. N. Tessin in another visit (1687) wrote of his viewing of the Salon de Mars at Versailles with its large silver looking glasses, tables flanked by candle stands, also of silver with their candelabra 'on top.'
Large mirrors, in two or more sections, were used architecturally in the seventeenth century with a console table beneath. This arrangement also functioned as a barrier to protect the mirror. Consoles displayed a sculpture, bronze or ceramic to the greatest effect, as also reflected in the mirror. Still, small-scaled “toilette” or dressing table mirrors, that were the primary mirrors in earlier times, remained popular.
During the eighteenth century Rococo period , mirrors and mirror frames became extremely important and ubiquitous elements of interior decoration, starting with table and dressing mirrors, until those that were very large, in sections, with Venice still the foremost producer. In an engraving of a feast in Bologna in 1693- mirrors were lined up along a wall, forward canted - as many were in the period, and not all alike! The diarist James Boswell wrote in late August 1765, that he stayed in sumptuous rooms in Siena – ornamented lavishly with paintings, and an assortment of mirrors, “including five around his bed”. The mirror now took the place that tapestries formerly had in room decoration.
During the Rococo period, the extravagantly shaped and carved mirrors were imaginatively designed and many were superbly executed. Mirrors in Italy were a furniture form with which designers saw no limits, and each region produced models uniquely their own. Aside from the mirrors of Genoa, Turin and Venice, there was the royal manufactory of Capodimonte (Naples), which produced mirrors for the Bourbon rulers’ collections that were rich or ethereal, while those of Rome and Milan were grand.