Mirror, Mirror on the Wall
Dating back to the 16th century, the history of Venetian glass mirrors is a story not unlike the grandest tales of revolution and war. The very first mirrors used in Greece and Rome through the Middle Ages – flat, polished discs of lava stone or metal – gave only a shadowy glimpse of the gazer. Efforts to blow a thin, clean and flat pane of glass that could be transformed to produce a reflection as clear as water escaped even the most talented of artisans for centuries.
Venetian craftsmen worked tirelessly to develop the technology possible to create a clear-looking glass by perfecting the application of a metallic backing to the smoothest of glass. Venetian glass mirrors quickly became the envy of the world, bringing in top price from courts all across Europe. The city guarded the secret for many years, fervently protecting its methods from foreign spies. Venetian law threatened to imprison the families of craftsmen who left the city. The center of production was even moved to the island of Murano to protect the city from factory fires, but also to prevent access to factory centers from intruders.
The pressure of riches and rewards from foreign markets became overwhelming for Venetian craftsmen, and by the end of the 16th century, several had escaped for cities that would offer more opportunity. As London and Paris began producing Venetian-quality glass mirrors, prices dropped and mirrors began adorning castles, courts and manor homes throughout the world. Despite the abundance of clear glass mirrors, Venetian mirrors remained superior to all others.
The fevered demand in Europe for Venetian glass mirrors, then and now, is simple to understand. Venetian glass mirrors hold a depth of view that simple mirrors cannot. Additionally, Venetian glass mirrors are treated like jewels – shaped and crafted to display all facets of the mirror, often displaying wide borders of etched glass or tiny prisms.
Both antique and modern-made Venetian glass mirrors can be found in sizes varying from towering to tiny. Antique mirrors, although expensive and more difficult to find, may reflect age spots or rings of discoloration, but age only makes the reflection warmer and richer. Newly made Venetian glass mirrors are more readily available, easier on the budget and do not lack any of the original charm and beauty of 16th- and 17th-century styles.
Mirrors are a beautiful way to bring light into a room and open up an interior space. Areas that work well when highlighted with a mirror include opposite a door in an enclosed foyer, over a fireplace to bring warmth into a cozy den or in any dark corner to add light and an illuminating accent. From living rooms to family rooms, bathrooms to bedrooms, there are few spaces where a mirror will not add to a room's overall design, lightness, warmth and color.
To purchase Venetian glass mirrors and accessories:Donghia
New York, NY 10013
The Mirror Lady
32 Central Drive
Port Washington, NY 11050
To learn more about Venetian glass mirrors:
Read The Mirror by Sabine Melchior-Bonnet, translated by Katharine Jewett (Routledge, 2001). The Mirror traces the history of the mirror through legend, literature and mythology.