Louis XIV period
Marquetery Boulle: brass, pewter and tortoiseshell
Chased and gilt bronze
Rectangular in shape in the lower part, this mirror has a double movement in the upper part and ends at the top with a curve. The marquetery of brass, pewter and tortoiseshell represents a drapery, framed by two gilt bronze sticks and adorned with a chased and gilt bronze leaf pierced in each corner. At the top, there is an important leaf ornament of pierced bronze. The rosewood veneered back has a support to lay the mirror and a ring at the top to hang it.
Mirrors in the 17th century
At the end of the 15th century in Murano island (Italy) appeared the manufactory’s technique of mirrors “with mercury”. It was the only one able to produce mirrors of quality and of a consequent size. On a glass plate was applied a decoction of pewter and mercury mixed at high temperature. This very toxic process, costing the lives of many workers, was replaced in 1837 by the silverware technique before being definitively banned in 1850.
The Republic of Venice jealously watched over this production of luxury objects and kept its monopoly. The importation of these glasses was thus extremely expensive (30 000 gold pounds per year).
In France, First Minister of State of Louis XIV, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, wanted self-sufficiency for the arts and manufactories. Hence, he sent spies to Murano and hired Venetian workers at a high price in order to make them work in the faubourg Saint-Antoine from 1665 to 1667. These Venetian workers were threatened with death by the Republic of Venice if they betrayed the secret of mirror production. At this time, the Royal Manufactory of Mirror Glasses was created, then transferred near Cherbourg in 1668 obtaining the exclusive privilege of manufacturing “mirror glasses”. The, producing mirrors thanks to the technique of «broad sheet glass », the royal Manufactory could from this day compete with the Venetian productions. To obtain a blown plate glass, it was at first blown to form a hollow bottle called the manchon, and then cut out at the ends. The cylinder obtained was then cut lengthwise and deployed to obtain a glass sheet.
Later, in 1695, it merged with another manufactory located in the former château des Sires de Coucy, in Saint Gobain (Aisne department). Then, French luxury was definitely asserted with the order of 357 mirrors of exceptional size for the Galerie des Glaces in château de Versailles.
At the end of the reign of Louis XIV, the Royal Mirror Glass Manufactory at the head of the mirror industry, exported mirrors through all Europe for the equivalent of 300 000 to 400 000 gold pounds per year. The Venetian monopoly is replaced by the French monopoly. The Royal Mirror Glass Manufactory lost its privileges during the Revolution and later transformed into the Saint-Gobain’s company.
A toilet mirror
The fashion for toilet services probably appeared during the first half of the 17th century at the French court. The word “toilet” which first designated the cloth (the fabric) that covered the table where the care utensils were placed, gradually applied to the rite of changing the linen. Indeed, while public baths were frequent in the Middle Ages, they gradually disappeared during the Renaissance. Taking a bath then became a rare practice. Only a few large castles had “bathing apartments” and in the cities “bathhouses”.
Scarce in the cities and often foul smelling, water was feared. The “dry” toilet developed gradually at this time, consisting in wiping off with soft and white fabrics, perfumes or ointments. Responding to these practices, more and more refined objects ended up constituting what we call from then on the “toilet services” of which the mirror constitutes one of the major elements. Conceived to rest on a table, this mirror is provided with a support mounted at the back.
The improvement of the manufacturing method of the glass mirror in the 17th century let to obtain larger and larger surfaces which were decorated with a luxurious frame.
Graham Child, Les miroirs, 1650-1900, Paris, Flammarion 1990.
Nicolas Courtin, L’art d’habiter à Paris au XVIIe siècle, Paris, Éditions Faton, 2011.
Nadeije Laneyre-Dagen, Georges Vigarello, La toilette, La naissance de l’intime, catalogue d’exposition Musée Marmottan, 2015.
Georges Vigarello, Le propre et le sale : l’hygiène du corps depuis le Moyen Âge, Paris, Seuil, 1985.
Good overall condition, glass with signs of wear