Mirrors During the Reinassance Period
By Helen Costantino Fioratti
Rococo mirrors were some of the most fanciful of all furnishings. They could be small dressing table mirrors whose frames were lacquered with chinoiserie or floral subjects, or could be larger lacquered or gilt mirrors. The very early eighteenth century carving remained symmetrical, but as the century progressed, carving became asymmetrical and of a capricious shape. Although the ornament was the same as to dimension and overall mass, to make them more interesting, the two sides of the mirror frame were dissimilar. The crown section, too, gradually became an integral part of the looking glass and not a removable section.
It was a Venetian glass maker, Giuseppe Briati (1686-1772), who is credited with having changed the local method of mirror production, introducing mirrors in the early eighteenth century seemingly constructed entirely of glass, where even the frames were of clear and colored mirror. In place of the gilded or lacquered wooden moldings, glass would be applied to the wood back support. Sometimes glass rods were used between mirrored moldings, so that the entire surface was covered with glass. These were often surmounted by a gabled-shaped crown or cimasa. The mirrored framing sections were applied to the surface of the main mirror plate with mirrored ovals, leaves, or stars held on with little nails. There apparently entirely glass mirrors are now commonly given the name “Venetian”.
One type of such looking glasses had a wooden structure with a central mirror plate, around which countless small leaves were fastened, all interspersed with little flowers that enclosed the mirror to compose a colored glass frame. Another type of “Venetian mirror” is again formed by strips – some twisted like ropes with mirror sections between more moldings of glass and held with little screws or nails, covered by more mirrored plaques. This fashion was also popular in Piedmont where the mirror glass was less green and grayer than in Venice. Some had the addition of carved wood and gilded crowns and feet. These mirrors could be all uncolored mirror glass or combined, for example, with cobalt mirror glass on the frames. In the 1730s, using Bohemian mirror- and glass-making techniques, Briati began using his kilns not only for incised mirrors, but also for chandeliers.
Rococo Venetian mirrors were light, airy, and capricious; some in the Chippendale style had exceedingly fine carving alternating gilding with lacquer, where, in contrast, the English looking glass frame would have been exclusively gilded.
When a larger mirrors, beyond the artisans’ capabilities, were desired, divided plates were used, joined at the corners with mirror-covered screws or nails. The plates were set up in a pleasing pattern such as, for example, four sections on the sides, with one top and bottom, centering a larger plate.
Venetian mirrors had such renown in the eighteenth century that entire dynasties of Murano workers dedicated their lives to its production. The Mazzola, Mestre and Rioda families were at the forefront; by 1773, more than five hundred specialists alone were active in Venice. In particular, Liberale Motta, an artisan from Murano, was well known for his particularly large mirrors.