Mirrors During the Reinassance Period
By Helen Costantino Fioratti
Murano glass makers had their own Golden Book (“libro d’oro”) and enjoyed a more democratic government than Venice. They were so highly respected that a Venetian nobleman could marry a daughter of a Murano glass blower and still be allowed to retain his seat in the Maggior Consiglio (Great Council).
A colorful figure, Sir Robert Mandell, played a key role in English mirror production. King James I (1566-1625) described him as a “Welshman with the manners of an admiral and the brains of a financier.” The monarch could not understand “why Robert Mansell, being a seaman, whereby he got so much honor, should fall from water to tamper with fire which are two contrary elements.” After wood burning was prohibited to glassmakers and blacksmiths in 1615, Sir Robert was given a monopoly to use coal for the production of glass. He eventually hired members of two glassmaking families from Duke Fernando of Montferrato: the Perroli’s and the Dagnia’s, who became important to the glassmaking industry in England, as well as in France.
In England lead glass was known as “Jewish glass” during the Roman period and until the late Renaissance.
In Italy from 1570, with a guild of their own, Venetian mirror artisans were recognized as separate from glass makers, and unlike glass workers, were allowed to work in Venice proper. This system was called Marie-Gola (or mother rule). (The original papers with the magistrate’s decree of Giustizieri Vecchi, is held in the Museo Correr, Venice). There is also still, a street named Calle degli Specchi in Venice. A mirror, appraised in France at that time, framed with silver was said to be worth eight thousand pounds, while at the same time a painting by Raphael was appraised at three thousand pounds, mirrors were so highly considered!
In France, the miroir de pôche (or pocket mirror with a case) was often encased in ivory, featuring carved figures, a style which lasted till the end of the sixteenth century. Some mirror backs were enameled in Limoges or embroidered with pearls and gems on velvet.
Gabrielle d’Estrées, (1571-1599), King Henri IV’s mistress, had a gold mirror with relief-carved agates and his portrait with further heads in relief garnished with diamonds and rubies. There even was a special mourning mirror which was worn at the waist during the period. A silver filigree mirror from 1569 laid over a lacquered surface from France is in the Royal Collection at Rosenberg Castle in Copenhagen. Louis XIV, in the 1660s, commissioned a room at Versailles where this technique was admired by visitors.
After the mid-sixteenth century, mirror-making was taken up around Europe but with varying success. Since 1373, Germany had had a corporation of “mirror masters.” They first used a technique known as the “crown” method (of Norman origin) as the mirror had a crown-like shape. The glass was blown into a bubble, pricked at one end and then whirled until it became a flat disk whereupon it was opened into a slit-bell. The advantage was that it presented a surface which was brilliant, without dulling or marks. This technique was expensive and required much trimming. The slightest bit of grit, or the smallest air bubble could spoil the glass.
In France, as their work was prestigious, the master blowers of Normandy were given aristocratic status from the fourteenth into the eighteenth centuries. The glass which they produced in Lorraine, which came in cylindrical form, became known as in the ‘style the Lorraine’.
Most mirrors in France however were still imported from Venice. Cardinal Mazarin (1602-1661) had a large collection of mirrors, as did many aristocrats who mentioned mirrors of gold and silver, tortoise shell and carved ivory in their writings or inventories. The ball given at the Hôtel de Chevreuse in Paris on February 19, 1633, in the Queen’s presence, listed six rooms lined with silver mirrors. Queen Henrietta Maria (1609-1669) had a mirror that could be inclined to a chosen angle. By the end of the seventeenth century, two thirds of Parisian households possessed a mirror of sorts.