17th Century Italian Carved & Silvered Mirror

Carved and silvered mirror frame with elaborate crest and base,showing grotesque and botanical details, with later mirror plate. Of fabulous character and presence

Italy, late 17th Century

The heavily undercut and pierced details of the frame are typical of the theatricality and bold expression of the Italian Baroque. Finished in silver gilt, the flamboyant design and luxurious materials command the space, alluding to the status and power of the patron. What is immediately striking is the overwhelming presence of horticultural motifs and the grotesque. A simple fluted moulding is adorned with profusely carved sprays of acanthus leaves, interwoven with flower heads, fluid, three-dimensional scrolls, pierced branches and a plant-like ribbon at the crest. The natural theme is amplified by the composition of the frame itself: the woodwork fans out at each corner, and at the mid-point of each side.
Defining the crest and base of the design are two characterful, mask-like faces: one a vision of terror, contorting in anger from the apron of the frame, the other delicate and angelic, tranquil in its foliate nest at the apex. The symbolic relevance of the masks in this particular frame is unknown: however, it was often the case in Baroque designs that allegorical ornamentation had little relation to the object itself. Their individualised, dramatic expressions are intended to elicit an emotional response in the viewer: indeed, Baroque art and design addressed the viewer's senses directly, appealing to the emotions as well as the intellect.
In any case, they serve as a reminder of the movement's playful theatricality. Indeed, green-man masks, as these motifs were known, signifying a face constituted of or emerging from overlapping leaves, were the perfect Baroque fusion of drama and the organic world.
Silvered giltwood frames, particularly of this period, are a rare phenomenon. The silver leaf applied over the present, intricate woodwork has clearly worn over time, to reveal a red gesso beneath, offering a stony, and somewhat chiselled appearance, citing the frame's rich history. Indeed, the Baroque began as a response to the austerity of Protestantism following the Reformation. A cultural retaliation was ordered by the Council of Trent, which stated that the arts should communicate religious themes and encourage emotional and spiritual involvement from the viewer. Gianlorenzo Bernini (1598-1659), an architect and sculptor of the period, paved the way for frames such as this with his St Peter's Chair & Gloria, 1666, housed in St. Peter's Basilica. Observing this frame through the period eye, we can understand that its bold intricacy and silvered finish were intended to distinguish the piece from the horror vacui of its surroundings: coloured marbles, kaleidoscopic and rich, textured materials such as velvets and satins, that would have adorned the Baroque interior.
H 140cm x W 100cm
H 55.14" x W 39.39"
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