Mirrors During the Reinassance Period
By Helen Costantino Fioratti
Mirror sections were used on ceiling decorations from the famous Palazzo Gravina in Palermo, to the Palazzo Terzi in Bergamo, with fine examples in Florence (such as the Palazzo Riccardi) and in Genoa (the Palazzo Durazzo, now the Palazzo Reale). Great mirrored interiors can be seen at the Palazzo Doria Pamphili in Rome, the residence of the Francavilla princes in Naples, in Parma, and the mirrored hall of the Sanvitale. Lacquered mirrors to match the room decor were also seen in Milan, Genoa, Florence, and in Piedmont.
Mirrors were also applied to the paneling of doors, such as the pair of Venetian doors shown in this catalogue from Palazzo Barbarigo di Santa Maria del Giglio in Venice and pairs of double doors from Genoas’ Palazzo Carrega that are at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and in the former Doris Duke house in Newport, R.I., where, instead of the mirror substituting only the wooden panels, mirror was placed behind beautiful gilt wood carvings. The monumental Salon Doré with its mirrors at Palazzo Lomellini, on the Strada Nuovo in Genoa which so impressed foreign dignitaries, was sadly lost in World War II.
In Venice, frame designers were also mirror specialists. The glass made on the neighboring island of Murano now applied stagno, or liquid lead, to the back, to transform the glass into mirror. Some mirrors were permanently installed in wall paneling, while others were wall hanging. Mirrors continued to be a Venetian specialty and a requisite for the fashionable interior in Italy and abroad.
By the 1760s, Venice had a particularly large production of fine wood mirror frames prepared for gilding or lacquering. Indeed, by 1773, almost one hundred carvers in various botteghe and more than sixty gilders were all at work. What the English call "Canaletto frames" typically had panels near the frame corners containing scrolling foliage and flowers on a punched ground. The smooth gilding of the raised lozenge sections contrasted with the background to make a play of texture. Such motifs were used on mirror frames as well as painting frames, but the mirrors were surmounted by a crown, or cimasa, and often had scrolls and foliate motif carvings attached to the sides of the uprights or to the base.
Mirrors continued as an important part of wall decor in Italy, France, and Germany in the eighteenth century, very often set into panels to brighten the interior, or hung over the chimneypiece, between windows, and over consoles and chests of drawers. Mirrors set into wall paneling were used in conjunction with stucco, painting and marbleized finishes. Often they were flanked by sprightly, vegetal decorated or mirrored wall sconces, which had painted wrought iron, tôle, or gilt bronze candle holders.
Although other countries had learned how to make large mirrors in the eighteenth century, Venice maintained its predominant position despite strong competition from France. As one French visitor to Venice in the 1730s remarked, those of “any considerable size are extremely dear when other looking glasses at the present are so cheap.” The Venetians had been only permitted by their letters of patent of 1668 to produce mirrors of 60x40 pouce. The mirrors artisans limited most of their manufacturing to 45 x 20 pouce and less.