G. Morrazzoni, “Il Mobile Veneziano del’700”, 1958, pl. CCLXV, illustrating a mirror or girandole of different form but engraved with a similar exotic figure beneath a very similar ribbon-tied canopy.
A very beautiful pair of Venetian Rococo engraved mirrors in carved giltwood frames, each with its original two-part mirrored glass of tapering rectangular form, shaped above and below, with an engraved floral border surmounted by a ribbon-tied lambrequin canopy, one plate centred below by a female figure, almost certainly Columbina wearing a plumed headdress and low cut dress, holding a bunch of flowers in her right hand and standing on a foliate and beaded dias, the other mirror centred by the figure of a man, almost certainly Pierrot, holding flowers in his left hand, wearing a rounded hat, a loose blouse with pronounced buttons and breeches who stands on a comparable dais. Each mirror within an elaborately carved Rococo frame with inner shaped mirrored slips, surmounted by a pierced cresting centred by a scalloped cartouche and flanked below by a pair of semi-nude female figures, the sides ornamented overall with floral and foliate arabesques and centred below by a distinctive mask head boss
Venice, date circa 1740
Height 115 cm, width 75 cm. each.
Historically famed for its glass, Venice also became the leading centre for the manufacture of fine quality mirrored glass. Up until the early-mid nineteenth century mirrored glass was made by applying a thin layer of mercury to the back of plate glass. Production was extremely difficult, breakages were commonplace and as a result mirrored glass was scarce and very expensive. Thus mirrors were considered a status symbol, reserved for the elite and were displayed as a mark of refinement, power and wealth. Since it was impossible to make large sheets, mirrored glass plate was made in several smaller parts, as we see here. Throughout history mirrors have had a number of functions; not only do they allow an individual to look at his or her own reflection but before the advent of gas or electric light, they could also enhance the effect of natural sunlight or indeed candle-light. At the same time, they have and still can be appreciated purely for their aesthetic appeal, so much so that at times the mirror became the central focus of a room as in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles or in Italy at throne room at Ca’ Rezzonico, Venice and Palazzo Mocenico in San Stae.
The history of glass manufacture at Venice dates back to the tenth century although nothing has survived which can be accurately dated before about 1450. Venice was in a particularly favourable position to develop a glassmaking industry since it not only had a plentiful supply of suitable sand and quartz pebbles but it was the principle trading port between Europe and the Near East and furthermore was in touch with the glassmakers of Syria and Alexandria. By the late thirteenth century, the Venetian Senate decided to move the industry to the nearby island of Murano so as to prevent the threat of a fires from the city’s many individual glass furnaces. One of the results of moving the industry to Murano was that glass manufacture became a State monopoly and in turn helped protect the secrets of the various techniques that the Venetian glass manufactures were perfecting.
The Venetians also specialised in engraving glass plate, especially during the early eighteenth century when it was common to see a central male or female figure within a decorative border. Favourable subjects included characters from the Commedia dell’arte – a popular form of street theatre performed by a troupe of professional actors and singers who re-enacted improvised scenarios between stock characters based on universal types of masters, servants and lovers. The vogue for Commedia dell’arte is said to have originated from Venice during the seventeenth century which then spread in popularity throughout Europe. As a subject the Commedia dell’arte inspired other arts, especially during the eighteenth century Rococo, from paintings by Watteau to the famous series of figurines by the Meissen porcelain factory. Figures from the Commedia dell’arte were also represented on eighteenth century Venetian glass, of which the present figures almost certainly portray two of its central characters, namely Pierrot and his wife Columbina. Pierrot usually played the part of the sad clown who pined for Columbina; she however invariably broke his heart, leaving him for her lover Harlequin. Throughout history Pierrot was often portrayed wearing a loose blouse with very large buttons, pantaloons or breeches and usually a close fitting cap or as here with a rounded hat. Columbina, who played the part of a servant, was both witty and sharp; as here she was often portrayed wearing a plumed headdress along with a ragged or patched dress; she also sometimes carried a tambourine which was used to fend off the amorous advances of Pantalone.
Because Venice had historically led the way in the manufacture of mirrors, Venetian craftsmen also specialised in creating beautiful carved giltwood frames, of which this pair are extremely fine examples.