Mirrors During the Reinassance Period
By Helen Costantino Fioratti
The fashion for architecturally incorporated mirrors created superb interior spaces throughout Italy. Rococo mirrors became asymmetrical, along with the wall paneling. Mirrors would be balanced by the direction of their ornament. The forms were capricious, being variations of vegetal motifs or scrolls. In Piedmont, Liguria and Lombardy, the influence of French design, was particularly strong. In the first half of the eighteenth century, their mirrors were an Italian fantasy adaptation of French decorative ideas.
Some lesser quality mirrors were made in central Italy during the eighteenth century, with narrow linear frames to hold the glass. Scrolls added to the uprights and bases, and plume-like carving at the top often bent forward, contrasting with the simplicity of the frames to which they were applied. These mirrors, made for the bourgeoisie, were spindly and ‘shaky looking.’ Being lightly constructed, these mirrors have generally not withstood the ravages of time.
An over-mantle mirror, the ‘caminiera’, is a type of mirror said to have originated with the designs of Robert de Cotte (1656 – 1735), the French master builder and designer during the Régence. The caminiera in Italy kept the width of the mantelpiece shelf as its base and the often undulating top related to the room’s design. The framing was either of naturally finished walnut, gold-leaf gilding, mecca-gilding or lacquered on soft wood. The caminiera began by only occupying the lower part of the chimney piece wall and was often proportioned to the lower ceilings on the mezzanine floors, where people lived their private lives to keep warm in winter. To achieve the width of the chimney piece, three sections of mirror were usually placed side by side with a wider central panel flanked on either side. This style did not preclude mirrors taller than they were wide. Some mirrors were truly monumental and composed of a central sheet of mirror surrounded with varying symmetric arrangements to arrive at the desired size. Mirrors from some rustic areas, such as in the Marche, in central Italy, could even split the mirror glass down the middle.
The sheets of mirror were held by metal supports consisting of screws covered with gilt or silvered decorative elements or wooden moldings that covered the margins. The moldings were finely carved as a rule, either gilded or lacquered, and only created more interest when combined with the reflective mirror. The technical problems, which still prevented the production of all but fairly small sized mirrors, resulted in marvelous solutions to enlarge the effect: for example, mirrors, perhaps over a console with wall brackets holding such objects as vases or flanked by candle arms or sconces.
Exquisite large mirrored salone can be seen in the Circolo del Whist in Turin, and intimate rooms such as the boudoir of the Calbo Grotta palace now reconstructed at the Ca'Rezzonico Museum in Venice. Other “galeries des glace” in Europe are in the Palazzo Litta (with richly gilded carvings) and the Palazzo Clerici Trotti in Milan. In the Palazzo Terzi, also in Milan, mirrors and decorative paintings are inset into the boiserie (even on the ceiling). Other mirrored rooms are in Bergamo, at the Palazzo Zenobia, Venice, (and formerly) in San Vitale in Parma, and the Residenz Palace in Munich.