11446 A LARGE VERY FINELY CARVED CIRCULAR OAK MIRROR SURMOUNTED BY ADDORSED EAGLE HEADS WITH TALON FEET CLASPING A SCROLL English. Second Quarter of the nineteenth century. Measurements: Height: 77″ (195.6 cm); Width: 59 1/2″ (151.1 cm).
Of oak. The plain circular frame surmounted by carved double eagle’s heads issuing from a continuous circle, above a replaced circular mirror plate surrounded with pearl molding, the lower part with shaped replaced mirrored reserves. The whole resting upon a carved scroll with ball finials held by carved eagle talons. Minor repairs.
This spectacular mirror belongs to a small group of early nineteenth century English pieces of furniture superbly carved in the uncommon medium of oak.
To achieve sculpted precision in this material requires a carver of consummate technical and artistic ability; the wood’s coarse grain and very hard inclusions, known as medullary rays,1 render oak as one of the most challenging of all the woods a carver can work. In the mirror we witness breathtaking quality more associated with carved detailing achieved in the softer and more malleable lime wood and close grained pine.
Two further items that may well be the work of the same maker as the mirror are a magnificent over-scaled armchair with full standing griffon profiles, that once formed part of the collection of Courtown House, County Kildare (figure 1), and a large pair of exquisitely carved triform tables with columnar bases and griffons of outstretched pose (figure 2). These were made to support superb Italian, possibly ancient, mosaic roundels and belonged to a Scottish noble family. The exceptional carving in oak, grand scale, neoclassical and zoomorphic character of the group suggest a common, as yet unidentified, maker.
Oak is a tree emblematic of England and is also closely associated with Elizabethan and seventeenth century British furniture. It became the wood of choice for pieces made in the rarefied style now termed Antiquarianism, where designers such as Richard Bridgens (1785-1846) and Anthony Salvin (1799-1881) designed furniture that melded sixteenth and seventeenth century detailing with late Regency forms. The great early nineteenth century furniture avant-garde designer and sculptor George Bullock (1782-1818) also openly championed the use of oak and other indigenous English timbers in his work.
However, the three above mentioned pieces are an extremely interesting subset of English furniture made in oak, with strong neoclassically inspired design, which would, in normal cases, have been fabricated in mahogany or gilded wood.
The striking use of addorsed eagle heads surmounting the mirror with talons clasping the ends of a long scroll at its base may infer an allusion to the heraldry and scholarly attributes of its original owner.
- Bowett, Adam. Woods in British Furniture-Making, 1400-1900: An Illustrated Historical Dictionary. Wetherby: Oblong Creative, 2012. 165.