A FINE PAIR OF ENGRAVED GLASS MIRRORS OF UNUSUAL FORM

8010 A FINE PAIR OF ENGRAVED GLASS MIRRORS OF UNUSUAL FORM Possibly Bohemia. Second Quarter Of The Eighteenth Century.   Measurements: Height: 65 1/4″ (165 cm) Width: 28 1/4″ (72 cm) Depth: 2 1/4″(6 cm)



Research

Of engraved glass.  Each surmounted by a pierced crest engraved with foliate swags above a shaped frame engraved with foliate decoration and garden scenes, the frame centered above a wreath enclosing an engraving of a fountain, the oval mirror plate engraved with a classical figure. Some sections replaced.

Marks:
The back of each mirror bears a handwritten number, ?7 and 23, together with a hexagram.

Provenance:
Private collection Sao Paulo Brazil.
Important American Collection.

These magnificent mirrors are particularly impressive examples of the type of engraved glass most readily associated with the Murano glassworks in Venice. However, in this instance the distinctly Germanic baroque gabled elements, which rest on the shoulders of the mirror, and the unusual garden scenes engraved to the frame suggest that the mirrors may have been produced in one of the glass making centers of  Germany or Bohemia.

It is known that Venetian glass workers were attracted to Prague due to the Bohemian court’s desire to enhance its grandeur through the patronage of the arts. The court was prepared to  pay large sums to attract the finest craftsmen and as a result Bohemia’s glassmaking tradition was enhanced by their presence.

The crest of the mirror is centered by formal garden fountains, a theme which was particularly resonant in German design of the mid-eighteenth century. A table produced there in 1760 has a top decorated with a garden scene composed of colored glass beads. This garden view, of Herrenhausen, Hannover, is centered by fountains and stylized trees and became a popular decorative theme in glassware and other art forms. The Herrenhausen gardens depicted on the table bear a striking resemblance to the unusual garden scenes engraved to the frames of the present mirrors.

By the eighteenth century, the glass making industry of Venice was shrinking in size and the spread of technical knowledge to other countries by immigrant Italian glass-workers led to mirror-glass production in many of the countries that had previously relied on Venetian exports. However, as it is likely that the present mirror was the work of such craftsmen there remain a number of Venetian engraved mirror plates comparable with the present pieces.

A pair of wall sconces with mirrored plates in the Ca’ Rezzonico in Venice depict opposing male and female figures in contemporary dress (figure 1), while the classical figures similar to those on the present mirrors are to be seen on a mirror plate in the Elia Collection, Rome (figure 2), illustrated in G. Mariacher’s Specchiere Italiane, Milan, 1963; Pl. 34, 32.

The skill required by the Venetian craftsmen who worked in the glass houses of Murano is difficult to overestimate. A French traveler who observed the process in the 1760s left an account of what he had seen:

“They blow glass [up to] four and a half feet across each way, but usually it is only three feet at the most. After blowing the plate glass with great effort, they cut it and lay it on a stone, then with an iron shovel they put it at an inclined angle over the furnace to cool gradually. Silvering, or tinning, consists of laying on a perfectly smooth table of iron or marble a sheet of beaten tin the size of the glass. This tin is covered with a thin layer of mercury, and on top of this is laid the plate glass which has previously been polished with emery.”1

Aside from the notable decoration and the distinctly Germanic baroque architectural design of the pierced crest, the extent of the engraved glass to the frames is notable. The frame is composed of a number of intricately placed elements, every one of which is profusely engraved. The immense cost of such craftsmanship suggests that these mirrors were conceived as part of the lighting display in this important interior.

Footnotes:
1. Child, Graham. World Mirrors 1650-1900. London: 1990. 259.


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