Graham Child, “World Mirrors 1650-1900”, 1990, pp. 152-153, pls. 257-262 and 265, illustrating seven similar circular giltwood mirrors with eagle crests.
An extremely fine Regency carved giltwood and ebonised mirror fitted with a pair of two-light candelabra, the original silvered circular convex glass within a reeded ebonised slip and outer circular moulded frame ornamented with giltwood balls and surmounted by a superbly carved eagle with outstretched wings and suspending from its beak two balls hanging from chains, the eagle standing on a plinth and flanked either side by stiff-leafed sprays, with a corresponding ribbon-tied foliate terminal below, from which issue on either side a pair of scrolled two-light candle branches, each terminated by a circular drip-pan and vase shaped nozzle
England, date circa 1810
Height 165 cm, width to include the candle branches 106 cm, diameter of the mirrored glass 65 cm.
With its superbly carved eagle and bold foliate sprays, this handsome mirror typifies the bold Regency style, when convex mirrors within a circular giltwood frame were particularly fashionable in England during the first few decades of the nineteenth century. However circular convex mirrors date from a much earlier period, as known through early manuscripts and paintings such as one sees in the background of Jan van Eyck’s painting of the ‘Arnolfini Marriage’, 1434 (National Gallery, London). A number of convex mirrors were made at Nuremburg in Germany during the fifteenth century and later in France during the eighteenth century. Their popularity in England during the early 1800’s largely came about as a result of the effects of the French Revolution, 1793-5, since due to the political turmoil in France far fewer convex mirror plates were imported into England. This had the benefit of boosting production of such mirrored glass by the British Cast Plate Glass Manufacturers at the Ravenhead works, St Helens in Lancashire. Their demand in England was subsequently voiced in Thomas Sheraton’s entry for ‘mirrors’ in his “Cabinet Dictionary” of 1803, in which he noted that ‘the perspective of the room in which they are suspended presents itself in the surface of the mirror, and produces an agreeable effect’. As a result of this, as well as their ‘convenience of holding lights, they are now becoming universally in fashion and are considered both as a useful and ornamental piece of furniture’.
As here, circular Regency frames were often fitted with a standard ebonised reeded slip and were surmounted by a fashionable eagle cresting. Since antiquity, the eagle was considered a symbol of victory and power as well as generosity and as one of the personifications of the chief Olympian god Jupiter was often associated with lightening, represented by thunderbolts or by a bunch of flames; this might explain why the foliage below the plinth slightly resembles the latter. On some mirrors, the eagle held a single or, as here, a double chain from its beak, from which hung one or two giltwood balls. These are assumed to refer to the chained cannon balls that were fired from battle ships in order to de-mast the enemy; at the same time they were also considered a useful way of keeping flies away from the glass where they often left deposits. Before the introduction of gas light and later electricity, mirrors were a useful means of increasing light into a room and for this reason were sometimes fitted with candle branches below or beside the frame, as we see here. Furthermore convex mirrors are able to reflect more light than flat plate mirrored glass since they also catch light from other sources.