Up until the advent of plate glass at the beginning of the 16th century, mirrors were generally small, ornate and hand held. The reflective face of the mirror until plate glass was made of highly polished precious gold, silver or bronze and did not produce a good reflection as it was generally too opaque.
Plate glass was first made in Murano in the republic of Venice around 1500. Murano is still synonymous with quality glass making to this day. By the 17th century mirror glass was also being made commercially in Vauxhall in London. The most successful reflected mirror glass was cast onto a metal plate then rolled flat. In this way, much larger mirrors could now be made. Initially they were ‘silvered’ with mercury and tin foil, but by the middle of the 19th century silver was generally used.
Ironically it is the elaborate frames of mirrors reflecting changing styles that can often outlast the glass. 17th century mirror glass which was still quite small, had large frames made of intricately carved wooden fruit and flowers and could be decorated with tortoiseshell and silver. Marquetry veneers were also being used.
By the 18th century, the mirror glass itself was much larger and frames could be simpler, made of walnut and gilded, with baroque, rococo, and neo-classical styling as the century progressed. Mirrors now reflected well and were being placed prominently, over fireplaces and along walls and designed to match in with the general décor. Long plate dressing mirrors became popular in bedrooms during the Victorian era.
For a selection of period and revival antique marquetry furniture in Lancashire and Cumbria, seek a reputable antique dealer.
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