Mid 16th Century Mirror Frame
Baroness Ysabella de Draguignan
Victoria and Albert Museum, London
(from Salting collection)
A tin-glazed earthenware profile mirror frame created circa 1500, in Montelupo, Italy. Two earthenware extant pieces and kiln waste give evidence that it was a basic mold and produced at one of the ceramic shops in Montelupo.
The Extant Pieces
Musée National de la Renaissance,
Écouen (Parigi), acquisto 1852
Victoria & Albert Museum, London
(from Salting collection)
The tin glazed earthenware mirrors were created from basic plaster molds that were created in order to speed up the sculpting process. The Archaeological group of Montelupo found the molds and kiln scraps during an excavation of a well in 1977. The well was located inside the castle and was called “pozzo dei lavatoi” (tr. the well of washing). It was filled with fragments of pottery from the kilns of the town.
After the base was created, ornaments and personal affects such as slight deviations in jewelry were added after to complete a commissioned piece. After it was bisque fired, the artist would increase the personal nature of the piece by customizing the hair colour, clothing, and in the case of the example from the Victoria & Albert Museum, the name “Isoretta”.
The dimensions of extant earthenware piece in Victoria and Albert museum:
Height: 37.5 cm
Width: 29 cm
Depth: 4 cm
Weight: 1.94 kg
It is similar in design to a papier mâché piece also at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, England:
The papier mâché mirror was created by the workshop of the artist Neroccio di Bartolomeo de’ Landi in Sienna, Italy. Instead of hands surrounding the mirror, there are heads of Putti (cherubs) facing downward with arms outstretched on either side of the mirror. The bodies of the Putti turn into winding vines at the top of the frame.
Another mirror frame is sculpted from marble by the Italian sculptor Mino da Fiesole (1429-1484). Created between 1460 and 1470, it is the earliest of the extant profile mirrors. It is very similar to the other profile mirror frames in that it contains a richly dressed young noble woman with expensive jewelry and hair styling, with a demure visage. The principle difference being, instead of having hands holding the mirror, it has angel wings, which were gilded.
In both the marble and earthenware pieces, the mirror is the pendant of a thick and opulent chain necklace. The marble piece must have been for an extremely wealthy client. The timing of the creation of this piece corresponds to the time that Fiesole was working for the Medici family, and their notable associates.
Compared to marble, both papier mâché and the earthenware are lesser materials, and at least in the case of the earthenware, these can be considered copies from the marble piece. Although these other pieces were not nearly as exorbitant as the marble sculpture, they are by no means inexpensive pieces and were likely commissioned pieces.
Maiolica, or majolica, is a glazing technique employed to mimic porcelain. The tin glaze creates a white surface to which oxides are added to create a scene, often in vibrant colours. Islamic artists utilized the technique from the 9th century onward. It was introduced to Europe in the 14th century and collected by the wealthy nobility. Many pieces feature elaborate portraiture and heraldic displays.
Tin glaze was made up of sand; wine lees (dead yeast from the fermentation process) which contributed potassium carbonate (Pearl Ash; a colour modifier), lime (whitener), magnesium (glaze flow and adherence); and compounds of tin (whitener and opacifier); and lead (enhances colour at low temperatures).
I rolled out a slab of terra cotta and began with a general outline of the shape I wanted to create. I added clay for the head and body, and took away clay from the background, which helped produce a border that appears behind the subject. This piece was fired at Cone 05 with an ending temperature of 1870 degrees F, with a firing time of 12.20 hours.
Although I have created my own tin glaze in the past, I do not do so now, due to toxicity concerns for my two young children. It is not worth it to me at this time. I used Amaco Opaque White (LG-11) as the base and a combination of amaco “majolica” glazes (GDC series), Duncan overglazes, and Mason stains. It gives an appropriate look, and is dinnerware safe. It was also fired to Cone 05.
Opaque white (tin glaze) is applied over the entire piece.
Using mineral based stains I colour in the figure.
The piece after the glaze has been fired.
The mirror would have been either a highly polished piece of metal, or a piece of plate glass that was covered with mercury.
Since I did not want to work with mercury, I found a modern substitute that I had seen crafters use to create mercury glass. The spray paint is made by Krylon and is part of their Looking Glass Mirror Like Paint series.
I cut a piece of plate glass to fit the border on the frame. After cleaning it of oil, I applied the Krylon paint as directed. I then affixed the mirror into the frame with E-6000 self-leveling adhesives, which is an industrial strength adhesive that bonds non-porous surfaces in order to prevent the mirror from coming loose.
Berti, F. Capolavori Della Maiolica Rinascimentale: Montelupo Fabbrica Di Firenze, 1400-1630 : Firenze, Palazzo Medici Riccardi, 31 Maggio-27 Ottobre 2002. Montelupo Fiorentino (Firenze): Aedo, 2002. Print.
“Capolavori Della Maiolica Rinascimentale.” Capolavori Della Maiolica Rinascimentale. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Feb. 2013.
Hess, Catherine. Italian Ceramics: Catalogue of the J. Paul Getty Museum Collection. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2002. Print.
“Mirror Frame.” Search the Collections. Victoria & Albert Museum, n.d. Web. 14 Feb. 2013. <http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O161874/mirror-frame-unknown/>.
“Mirror Frame-Landi, Neroccio De.” Search the Collections. Victoria & Albert Museum, n.d. Web. 14 Feb. 2013. <http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O93438/mirror-frame-landi-neroccio-de/>.
Piccolpasso, Cipriano, R. W. Lightbown, and Alan Caiger-Smith. The Three Books of the Potter’s Art: A Facsimile of the Manuscript in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. London: Scolar, 1980. Print.
Sebregondi, Ludovica, and Tim Parks. Money and Beauty: Bankers, Botticelli and the Bonfire of the Vanities. Florence, Italy: Giunti, 2011. Print.