This superb flower-festooned mirror, celebrating Apollo's sister Diana and the fruits of the chase, was designed in the George II 'Modern' fashion for John, 2nd Earl Tylney of Castlemaine (d. 1784) following his inheritance in 1750 of Wanstead House, Essex.
The magnificent Roman villa, which formed the centrepiece of a great hunting estate, had a banqueting hall ceiling, featuring the huntress Diana, that had been executed by the Rome-trained court artist William Kent (d. 1748). This theme was repeated by this pier-glass, which furnished the dining room on the piano nobile, and formed one of a pair of pier-sets. Its accompanying table, supporting a golden Sienna marble slab, was designed en suite with a massive Roman-fashioned sideboard-table and largely derived from Kent's 1730s design for a sideboard at Houghton, Norfolk (see John Vardy, Some Designs of Mr. Inigo Jones and Mr. William Kent, 1744, pl. 41). The table's golden frame evoked the Arcadian Golden Age of Peace and Plenty, and presented the festive basket-bearing heads of Pan's nymph companions, and these were bracketed by Ceres' fruit-filled and flower-festooned cornucopiae that issued from the legs' wave-scrolled trusses.
The glass from the present pier-glass, which may have been adapted from an early 18th century mirror, is aggrandised by its mirror-mosaiced frame, whose French picturesque form harmonised with the contemporary landscaping of the park and reflects novel variety as lauded by the artist William Hogarth in his The Analysis of Beauty, 1753, and illustrated in the upholsterer Thomas Chippendale's, Gentleman and Cabinet-Makers Director, 1754.
The invention of this mirror pattern can be credited to the carver Matthias Lock (d. 1765), whose early work was carried out for the carver James Whittle (d. 1759), before the establishment of his Nottingham Court workshops in 1745. His publication of ornamental pattern-books in the French fashion, such as A New Book of Ornaments, Shields, Compartments, Masks, etc., 1740, had already gained him recognition by 1744 as England's best draftsman. His patterns for sconce mirrors entitled Six Sconces, 1744, included one with related hermed pilasters (pl.4); while related herms also featured in his New Book of Ornaments for Looking Glass Frames, 1752 (pl. 3). A number of related drawings survive amongst the Lock archive at the Victoria and Albert Museum (one illustrated here).
The frame ornament fuses the Earth and Water Elements with a trophy of the chase, including a hare and birds, festooned in the tympanum of its reeded and triumphal-arched temple pediment, which scrolled in bow form and draped with a water-scalloped lambrequin. Another hunter's trophy, comprised of the deity's weapons of bow and quiver, crown the principal glass, while ancient rustic oaks entwine its hermed pilasters, whose Roman scrolled trusses support busts of Diana's nymph companions. The base tablet, capped by wave-scrolled and water-scalloped pediments, features Diana's hounds issuing from a foliated and scalloped cartouche.
The sale particulars in the auction catalogue were described as follows:
Mr. Robins, sale at Wanstead House, Essex, 10th June 1822 and 31 following Days.
Eleventh Day's Sale. p.138
Principal Grand Floor. No. 20. Grand Dining Room, Left-hand side of Saloon.
A Magnificent Sienna Marble Pier Table, on a massive carved and gilt frame, and costly scroll raffle-leaf truss supports, on solid moulded plinths, ornamented with cornu-copiae of fruit, and head in the centre, with basket of ditto, festoons of flowers, leaf scrolls etc. 5-Feet-1 by I Foot-9, and Holland Cover.
Lot 6. A Ditto, en suite.
(these two were sold Christies New York, 17 May 2006, lot 150)
Lot 7. A Superb black and gold veined marble pier table, on massive carved and gilt frame, to correspond
Lot. 8. A Noble brilliant plate bordered Pier Glass, in a sumptuous carved and gilt leaf rustic frame, with pedimented top, and Dianas head ornaments, superbly decorated with dead game, greyhounds heads, and emblematical insignia of the chase, principal plate 47-26
Lot 9. A Ditto, en suite
Lot 10. Two 5-feet massive [brass] Guard Rods, for pier glass
Lot 11. Two Ditto.
We would like to thank Peter Brown of Fairfax House, York, for his assistance with Wanstead House research.
The mirror appears to have been carefully 'dry stripped' to remove later schemes, and then the worn areas re-gilded.
Original Gilding: thick gesso applied in many thin layers, followed by water gilding over a reddish clay.
Later schemes: only tiny traces of the later layers were found. They include tiny fragments of lead white oil paint with some oil-gilding over the top.
Recent repairs: no fresh gesso, just water-gilding over a reddish brown clay.