Mirrors During the Reinassance Period
By Helen Costantino Fioratti
The continuity of glass production was maintained by previously manufactured or broken glass reused and introduced into each quantity of silicate materials (or quartz) to be melted. The Jewish glass makers were then given complete control of this market in Genoa.
A type of glass bowl was prohibited in a legal action brought by Annibale Salamone against an artisan called Angelo Ponzello in 1673; the result was that Ponzello was permitted to fabricate mirrors only with Salamone’s permission since it was he who “had introduced the art of manufacturing the bowls (ciota) of this type to Genoa.”
After a severe economic downturn and a devastating plague, the Genoese turned to the Jews for financial assistance (after Genoa had cut loose from Spanish domination), even ordering a major supply of massive telescope lenses for a lighthouse from them.
The Venetian masters’ methods further developed in the Murano area from 1450-60. Generally in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century, Italian wall mirrors, while still small, were again architectural in form. “Restello” and “restello da camera” were names for mirrors used as part of a complex in Venice, but were an independent item in fifteenth century Florence. A collector named Vincenzo Catena described them as “restelli” and had Giovanni Bellini create a series of paintings inspired by “restelli,” now in the Gallerie dell Accademia in Venice.
Mirrors were more likely then to be rectangular than round. These were framed with armorial bearings, crowns, flowers, fruit, garlands, vegetal motifs, beasts, escutcheons, scrolls and volutes. Mirrors resembled small windows with columnar supports holding an elaborate pediment, similar to frames for tabernacles. The frames were primarily gilded with painted accents, and were contemporary to the slightly larger, standard sixteenth-century frame. Looking glasses had frames of parcel-gilt walnut, highlighted with gilding. Again, these looking glasses took inspiration from the palace facade. The mirror continued to be a status symbol for the aristocrats and was, indeed, the most visible symbol of their luxury.
The Venetians in Murano (circa 1450-60) invented a process for making colorless, flat mirrors which consisted of blowing the glass (again into a large cylindrical form), then opening it, (by splitting it down the side with shears), pressing it, unrolling it on a sheet onto a table. It was then placed into a heated chamber where it was flattened under heat with a wooden tool. At this point the surface was scarred and dull and not uniform in depth. It was laid again in a somewhat cooler chamber. The glass was then placed on a special palette where the cut shapes were formed, which were in turn smoothed, polished and evened-out by grinding them with constant pressure. The glass was backed with a thin sheet of a tin and mercury amalgam, which gave it its reflective property. The best mirrors were only made with the highest grade of plate or “broad” glass. It had no disturbing bull’s eye. It was rectangular and could be used for larger mirrors or glass.