Mirrors - (Furniture Glass)

Mirrors - (Furniture, Glass) In ancient China and in classical antiquity mirrors were of polished metal. This was still generally so in the Middle Ages in Europe, for, though the method of backing glass with a metallic substance to make it reflect was known, the imperfections and distortions due to impurities in the glass ruled out a satisfactory reflection. Hand mirrors of gold, silver or bronze, enriched with precious stones, were the treasured possessions of the very wealthy in medieval times. By the fifteenth century mirrors were usually of steel or crystal. Venetian glass-makers claimed to have perfected glass mirrors in 1507; this was a monopoly they held for a long time but by the early seventeenth century craftsmen from Murano (near Venice) were coming to England to instruct the natives in the making of looking-glass plates. By the 1620's Sir Robert Mansell had got the English glass-making industry on a sound footing, mirrors were being made in considerable quantities, and hanging mirrors began to play a part in the decorative domestic scheme of things. A considerable manufacture was set up at Vauxhall c. 1665.

During these early years mirrors were made from blown cylinders of glass that were slit open, flattened and polished, and the backs silvered with tin and mercury. It is worth remembering that in the 1670's a 'large' mirror would not be more than three feet in length. By the 1680's the English were claiming they made the best mirrors in the world; by the beginning of the eighteenth century foreigners were beginning to agree. The relatively low cost of the English product during the first half of the eighteenth century was a factor that amazed the visitor.
Many materials were used for frames from the last quarter of the seventeenth century: various soft woods that lent themselves to carvings, veneers of walnut, laburnum and olive wood, marquetry, japanned woods, tortoiseshell, ivory, silver. Most mirrors were square or rectangular till the end of the seventeenth century when the taste for tall mirrors- came in. This greater height meant the use of two or more plates of glass. The arched crest became popular. Over the mantel mirrors grew larger and larger. The pier glass (tall and narrow to occupy the space between windows) came in at the beginning of the eighteenth century and was usually of carved wood gilt, decorated in gesso. The architectural style of mirror dates from about 1725 and remained in vogue until the straight line gave way to the curve in the 1740's. Thereafter (until the classical revival) the frame-maker could give full expression to his virtuosity, whether in the rococo, the Gothic or the Chinese styles. The classical influence of Adam made itself felt in the 1760's and was dominant till the end of the century. The circular convex mirror became popular in England about 1800 (they had been made much earlier in France).

The Mirror Makers: A History of American Advertising and Its CreatorsThe Mirror Makers: A History of American Advertising and Its Creators 


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