A gessowork looking-glass, English, circa 1720. Mainly original gilding; bevelled glass 19th century.



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Gessowork mirrors are all about the details. Their outlines are fairly primitive compared to the later rococo and neo-classical pieces but the richly decorated flat surfaces repay years of study.

This mirror has some features that lift it above the ordinary, in particular the tasseled banner in the middle of the finial. This is a pleasing design that we have never seen on any other mirror from the period. The inner frame is worth noting in its similarity to earlier plain Queen Ann mirrors; indeed it is not impossible that the frame was made for an earlier glass which accounts for the shape.

Glass was often reused in the 18th century because it was so expensive. The glass here is too thick to be original but has a lovely soft, i.e. hand done, bevel - 19th century and with some foxing.

The eagle heads are quite often seen in mirrors of this type, either looking outwards or, as in this case, inwards. A nice touch is the foliage held in their beaks which then merges into the body of the frame.

Concerning the shell motif at the bottom, I don't pretend to know why, but the majority of this type of gessowork looking-glasses have a shell motif at top or bottom, sometimes both! The shell is supposed to be associated with Aphrodite/Venus ('Venus on a Half-Shell') but why the Goddess of Love must always be invoked in these mirror frames, I know not.

The brass candle-arms or not original but it would originally have had candle-arms if you see what I mean. It is easy to forget how dark interiors at night would have been and one of the main reasons for having looking-glasses was to place candles in front of them to increase light. This piece looks magical with the candles lit.

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