Gilt Mirrors: A History

Until the late 18th century mirrors were made from blown cylinders of glass slit open, flattened and polished, the backs being silvered by mercury. Pier mirrors became popular towards the end of Charles II reign – commonly placed between windows, with a console below them.

At this time a variety of materials were used for the frames, from wood veneers to silver, lacquer or needlework. The taste for gilt wall mirrors developed in the last years of the 17th century . These were often heavily carved gilt wood.

Gilding is always applied to a layer of ‘gesso’, a fine plaster of Paris that was mixed with size and applied over the wood frame. This is scraped and rubbed perfectly smooth, then covered with a layer of ‘Armenian bole’, a terracotta and glue mix that gives the gold its warm glow, then allowed to dry. The very fine gold leaf is then laid on section by section, a layer of water activating the glue each time.

Oval mirrors became popular during the 1730s, with elaborate ‘Rococo’ gilt frames featuring scrolls and shells. During the Chippendale period, Chinese and other exotic designs were used.

Overmantel mirrors, to go above a fireplace, were developed in the mid 1700s, becoming simpler in form towards the end of the century. Regency designs often feature three bevelled plates in a row, divided by reeded mouldings. Circular mirrors with convex glass also appeared at this period, often surrounded by an ebony bevel inside the gilt frame.
In early Victorian times the ‘silvering’ process was developed, where a coating of pure silver was applied to the mirror back.

Gilt mirrors add a refined elegance to any decorative scheme. Here at Thakeham Furniture we stock a wide variety of shapes and sizes of gilt mirrors, to suit every room. We don’t over restore, so the gold is soft rather than bright, and we preserve the original mirror plate where possible.

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