24 June 2020 | Galerie Atena
The history of the first manufactured mirrors goes back to 6000 BC. The oldest examples are made of polished stone, then of polished metal, copper or bronze. Antique mirrors were crafted of polished metal plates. Small but enormously precious, some of them were decorated on the back and handle with scenes featuring goddesses or women's daily life. From the first century onwards, pewter, bronze, silver and gold were lined on the surface with glass.
During the 13th and 14th centuries in Europe, mirrors were made by a method of coating glass with a tin and mercury amalgam. The most famous models of the Renaissance are undoubtedly the 15th century Venetian mirrors. Later, in the 17th and 18th centuries, large-size mirrors were placed on consoles with marble tops or above fireplaces.
Their use was twofold: to richly decorate a room and to multiply the sources of light. During the 18th and 19th centuries, the mirror was a central decorative element of aristocratic and bourgeois interiors. Thereafter, mirror frames, often crafted of carved and gilded wood, became a successful industry, some of which were stamped by woodcarving experts.
The discovery of the glass mirror was a real revolution. Venice was famous in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries for its glass manufactories that used this new technique. Murano glassmakers developed secret recipes and methods for making glass, and the concentration of Venice's glassmaking on this small Italian island enabled better control of those secrets. Factories for manufacturing mirror were later establisshed in Europe, but mirrors were still expensive luxuries.
The first Venetian mirrors had simple wooden frames. Gradually, they adapted to the Renaissance and Baroque taste, featuring sumptuous decoration composed of small columns, pearls and mythological characters. The carved and gilded wooden frames were richly adorned with foliage motifs, polychrome elements and precious stones.
Mirrors called Psychés appeared at the end of the 18th century, during the Consulate (1799-1804). These large-sized mirrors played an integral role in decorative design, often serving as the focal point of the room.
A large pivoting glass surrounded by a mahogany wood frame and supported by two column rests on a large base. It is ornamented with bronze or giltwood antique motifs, lyres, palmettes, swans and lion claws. The mirror is provided sometimes with two arms of light.
Restauration Psyche Mirror in Mahogany
This mirror, indispensable for the adjustment of a toilet, was very fashionable in the first years of the 19th century, under the Empire and the Restauration. Fascinated by fashion and concerned about the quality of her decorations and furnishings, Josephine Bonaparte had ordered several psyches for her bedroom and toilet cabinets in Tuileries and Malmaison.
During the 19th century, furniture adapted to the needs of the rising bourgeoisie. Manufacturers provided models inspired by the past centuries. Under the Restauration, neo-Rococo models were designed by the cabinetmaker Aimé Chenacard (1798-1838).
Napoleon III period was an eclectic era, that mixted 17th and 18th centuries styles. Marquetry sets in Boulle style, Louis XV and Louis XVI salons and small porcelain objects in Meissen style were then created. Cabinetmakers such as Louis-Auguste Alfred Beurdeley and Guillaume Grohé, emperor and empress's suppliers were famous for their eclectical furniture that was of the highest quality and workmanship.
The Rocaille style is very popular after 1850 and many Rococo Revival mirrors present elaborate and intricately detailed frames decorated with sweeping, heavy scrolls and acanthus with floral and shell details. Even though mirror of substantial size were in great demand, they were also very rare because the glass to create such models was extremely difficult and expensive to produce. To own a large mirror, particularily one as our giltwood mirror, was a luxury afforted to only the wealthiest households.
Small models developped and adorned tables and consoles. Craftsmen imagine decorations in cloisonné enamels or representations of Cupid and Psyche. Our porcelain table mirror is inspired by Meissen porcelain and Jacob Petit's astonishing decorations.