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Details & Cataloguing

Important Furniture, Silver and Ceramics

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An Italian faux marble reverse painted glass and parcel-gilt mirror, Sicilian

circa 1780

the rectangular plate surmounted by a shaped cresting centred by a rosette within a painted glass border simulating agate within a beaded band, inscribed in black on the reverse withe the number 8640; plate rebacked; some damage to glass


145cm. high, 90cm. wide; 4ft.9in., 2ft.11½in.
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Catalogue Note

Comparative Literature:
Alvar González-Palacios, The Prince of Palagonia, Goethe and Glass Furniture, Burlington Magazine, August 1971, pp. 456-460.
Hélène Tuzet, La Sicile au XVIIIème siècle vue par les voyageurs étrangers, Thèse de doctorat, Strasbourg, 1955. 
D.O. Kisluk-Grosheide, W. Keoppe, W. Rieder, European Furniture in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Highlights of the Collection, New York, 2006, p. 214-215, no. 90 (1992.173.2) for a chair in this technique.
Christopher Gilbert, Furniture at Temple Newsam House and Lotherton Hall, London, 1978, Vol. II, p. 456, fig. 586, for a table in this technique.

Furniture decorated with glass has existed since the time of Tutankhamun and the taste for it has filtered down through the centuries reaching its apogee in the late 18th century.

Don Fernando Francesco Gravina (1722-89), Prince of Palgonia, decorated the walls of his notoriously eccentric villa at Bagheria near Palermo, with mirrored ceilings and wall panelling and an English visitor on 28th June 1770, Patrick Brydone, recalled it as `, an enchanted castle...it is in every respect whimisical and fantastical....Some of the apartments are exceedingly spacious and magnificent with vast arch'd roofs; which instead of plaster or stucco, are composed entirely of large mirrors, nicely joined together' . According to A.G.P., op. cit., p. 456, the ceilings of the villa are still covered with mirrors and the walls are lined with huge glass panels, elegantly painted on the reverse to imitate precious marbles and pietre dure. 

Goethe also visited the villa and was equally impressed and commented upon this technique, on 13th April 1787, `An exact imitation of these (agates), produced by coating the back side of thin glass panes with lacquer dyes, was the only sensible thing I saw in the palagonian madhouse. They have more decorative effect than windows made with true agate, because, instead of having to piece together many small stones, the architect can make the panes any size he likes'. 

This mirror relates directly to the decoration of Villa Palagonia in Bagheria, the aristocratic suburb of Palermo. Furniture in this technique is extremely rare and several examples are recorded in various museums and private collections and there are a series of settees and chairs which have often been said to come from the Villa Palagonia. There is a chair in this technique with the initials `PPL' on the back however, A.G.P., op. cit., finds it improbable that they come from there. There is also a pair of console tables in this technique, in the Borghese Collection, Rome. Furthermore, there is a bed and a mirror frame with this type of decoration in a Private Collection.

A mirror in this technique was sold in these Rooms, 15th December 1999, lot 203.

 

Important Furniture, Silver and Ceramics

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London