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The earliest looking-glasses used in America came from Venice and were as much appreciated here as they were in Europe. In spite of the many imported English ones, they were, from the middle of the eighteenth century to the close of the Revolution, much in vogue in this country.
No other type of mirror ever reached such heights of artistry as were reached by the Venetian. Of the styles popular today one of the most interesting is the mirror with a frame of bits of glass held together by leads richly gilded. There are many modern adaptations of the styles, but the originals were far more sumptuous. Rosettes, bits of molded glass and etched designs on the underside of the glass are characteristic of the antique examples. Tinted glass was sometimes used in the frames, especially a beautiful blue. These glass-framed mirrors often had one or several candle supports on the lower edge. The brackets were either of gilded metal or of plain or colored glass, such as was used in the famous Venetian chandeliers. In mirrors employed thus as backgrounds for lights the glass itself might be etched with a narrow border design. Even the centre was at times decorated.
From the craftsmen of Venice are derived also the mirror frames of pierced carvings, in which the wood is cut into scrolls and flower festoons, richly gilded. The Chip pendale mirror is the Northern echo of this remarkable achievement. Some of the Venetian mirror frames were in the Chinese style, a fashion in furniture decoration borrowed by Italy from the French courts. Carved figures of seated Chinese mandarins and pagodas, sometimes tiny pedestals on either side for the display of Oriental porcelain, were characteristic. The Venetian designers handled these adaptations in their own peculiar way.
Frames of carved wood with very little pierced work or none at all, yet still flamboyant in design, were interesting and are still popular. One may find an oblong mirror with the inevitable carved scrolls and floral forms, vases and contorted shields making a fantastic silhouette of the mirror frame.
Venetian mirrors of plain, etched and painted glass, or colored glass, were designed originally for the palatial interiors of eighteenth century Venice. William M. Odom, in his book entitled "Italian Furniture," observes that the queen city of the Adriatic was at that time crumbling gayly away; an enchanted city of carnivals, masques, amusements and pretense; the haven of the world's pleasure-seekers, attracting the idle, the rich and the fashionable of Europe. Carnivals, gaming extravagances, pleasures-the life of the Venetian was one of indolence, vanity and revelry. Mirrors were so much prized that many rooms would be entirely walled with them.
Gayly painted Venetian furniture, while supplying an authentic background, is not essential as a setting for a Venetian mirror. It may be found, however, that when one of these mirrors is placed above a Venetian commode or dressing table, both pieces are enhanced. Italian or French furniture from the Renaissance onward also invites the Venetian mirror. So do English and Colonial styles from the time of Queen Anne to the beginning of the Empire period; for in the great century of English furniture the designers incorporated in their chairs and tables many a feature derived from Italy. One has only to recall the Adam brothers' love of Italian art, Angelica Kauffmann's decorations and those of other designers who worked in the Italian fashion, to realize how much of Italy there is in the English furniture styles of the eighteenth century.