Mirrors During the Reinassance Period
By Helen Costantino Fioratti
To prepare the materials to make the glass, two hundred workers cleaned white sand and soda, sifting it to remove foreign matter before the sand was washed and dried. Horses were then hooked up to carry the material through a grist mill to be pulverized. The sand was then filtered through a silk sieve with water. The temperature of the ovens had to be fired up to 1800 degrees Celsius (1500 degrees was the temperature that produced the molten glass). At that point, the heated mixture became a half liquid material. This molten glass was then poured onto smooth iron tables covered in wet sand, where it was rolled, then ground and polished as the first step to create a flat surface. After the glass was spread and rolled (and before it had cooled), it was placed again into the hot oven that now began to cool slowly as the oven fire burned out. A final grinding and polishing process began to create the perfectly flat surface required. Men worked in six hour shifts to keep the ovens at the correct temperatures. The amount of wood for fuel in the ovens was prodigious.
This new technique created mirrors that could be of
greater size and produce a more even surface, which was necessary for more accuracy of reflection. Of the mirrors manufactured in France in the early days, the architect Jules Hardouin Mansart (1646-1708), assessed that since 1688, when the technique was invented, France had only produced three or four 80” – 84” (2,03 – 2,13 cm.) high mirrors (out of four hundred that had to be melted down again). Instead, most mirrors were at most 40”-60” high (1,015 – 1,52 cm.). Seventeenth-century mirror glass was still produced with one of two techniques, blown or poured.
Mirrors were first inserted over the fireplace in France; as larger plates became available. Free hanging mirrors could also then be made. The name “triad” was coined to describe the suite of table, looking-glass, and pair of candle holders which became an important feature in the 1670s and continued to be fashionable until the early eighteenth century. Usually set up between two windows (from this developed the pull-up window curtain, a safety measure as candles could be knocked over, and possibly set fire to the hanging draperies). The latest fashion which integrated the mirror itself into the paneling, when combined with the light of the flanking candles helped shed light to the lady’s face and was highly desirable for grooming. Mirrors had been accompanied by makeshift tables covered with fabrics until the late seventeenth century in France. Dressing tables then developed into a new and sturdier form which could hold the candelabra and dispense with the flanking candle stands. It was called a bureau briseé (an indentation was left in the middle for the ladies' legs). This was a forerunner of the commode or chest of drawers. An engraving from the 1640’s entitled Les vierge folles, by Abraham Bosse (in the British Museum) shows a wall fitted with verdure tapestry in an elegant Parisian house where a picture, with a looking-glass below it, is hung with a nail driven right through the costly tapestry.
Mirrored interiors, such as the world famous Galerie des Glaces (Hall of Mirrors) at Versailles (inspired by Catherine de’ Medici’s galerie in her palace in Paris, (mentioned before) and the Duchesse de Bouillons’ ‘closet’ with its mirrored panels (with borders painted by Claude Audran), and the glass walls in the Apartment des Attiques built in 1670 in Versailles which depicted scenes (by Bon Boulogne) were much admired. The Versailles mirrored gallery was begun in 1678, designed by J.H. Mansart. He placed seventeen exceptionally large mirrors (in sections) facing the windows. Eighteen mirrors were set side by side in each area opposite the windows to create a vast sea of light. Three hundred and six panes of mirror all seemed to blend, held together by barely visible, very narrow, gilded copper frames.