The golden framed Shaftesbury mirrors, with their Arcadian deity Ceres celebrating Nature's abundance, are masterpieces of 18th Century furniture. They were commissioned in the 1740s for St. Giles's House, Dorset by Anthony Ashley-Copper, 4th Earl of Shaftesbury (d. 1771), and furnished the window-piers of one of his great rooms-of-entertainment. Lord Shaftesbury, who was a Fellow of the Royal Society and of the Society of Antiquaries, demonstrated his devotion to the 'Art of Architecture' by aggrandising St. Giles's in the Roman manner of George II's reign . His enthusiasm was shared by his Countess, Lady Susannah Noel (d. 1758) daughter of the Earl of Gainsborough, who was among the titled subscribers to Thomas Chippendale's celebrated furniture pattern-book The Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker's Director, l754.
Their rooms were embellished under the direction of the court architect Henry Flitcroft (d. 1767), and demonstrate his influence, encouraged by his principal patron Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington, in introducing the Roman fashion as the 'Modern' style. Indeed Flitcroft, who had an early training as a joiner, was to earn the name 'Burlington Harry' through his service as Burlington's architectural draughtsman, and collaboration in the publication of a collection of the Earl's drawings issued by William Kent as Designs of Inigo Jones, 1727.
The mirrors' ornament, such as the deity heads modelled on the Apollo 'Belvedere', relates to furniture patterns in John Vardy's Some Designs of Mr. Inigo Jones and Mr. William Kent, 1744.
Their elliptical form in Roman 'medallion' fashion evolved from Louis Quatorze sconce patterns in Daniel Marot's Nouveaux Livre d'Orfevrerie, c. l700, that were reissued in his Oeuvres in 1712. The frames are suspended by beribboned Roman acanthus; while their antique-fluted 'keystone' clasps bear the beribboned head of Ceres, the kindly harvest goddess of Virgil's Georgics. Pearled ribbon-guilloches tie acanthus to their frames, while 'Peace and Plenty' is recalled by festoons of fruit and flowers executed in the naturalistic fashion introduced by the celebrated court sculptor Grinling Gibbons (d. 1721). Their foliated candle-branches accompany triumphal palms and issue from cartouches that display the shell badges of Venus, the Nature deity.
The superb quality of their carving might possibly be the work of James Richards (d. 1767), 'Master Sculptor and Carver in Wood', who shared with Flitcroft a position in George II's Architectural Board of Works. However a more likely candidate is the London carver and gilder, James Whittle (d. 1759). Whittle was a friend of the celebrated cabinet-maker William Hallett, who helped furnish St. Giles's House, and later entered into partnership with Hallett's son-in-law, Samuel Norman (d. 1767), who received a court appointment as 'Surveyor' of Grinling Gibbons's magnificent carvings at Windsor Castle.
The pier glasses, according to the alphabetical inscriptions on the back, formed part of a set of three. The third mirror, featuring a corn-wreathed Ceres head, was sold in Christie's sale of furniture and sculpture from St. Giles's House, in these Rooms, 26 June 1980, lot 53.
It is interesting to note that in the 4th Earl's account books, there are two payments to a Mr. Swan for glass, one dated 25 October 1734 for £18 1 6d, and one dated 22 October 1735 for £18 18 6d. Under the heading 'Extraordinary Disburstments for the House and Gardens 1735', there is a further record of payment to 'Swan, for Glass as per Bill...£18 1 6d'. It is likely that these payments are for the windows of St. Giles's, although the possiblility remains that they are for the mirror plates. The same account books also record a payment, dated 22 October 1735 'Paid as per bill to Mr. Gibson for Furniture - - £295 0 0' a considerable sum in those days, given William Hallett's bill of £167 for 'carved chairs' (see lot 40, Christie's London, 8 July 1999). It is likely that Mr. Gibson is the upholsterer Christopher Gibson of St. Paul's Churchyard, whose trade card shows the interior of his shop with various items.
Analysis of the gilding reveals two sets of gilding layers. The first is the original water gilding. The second is the later oil gilding.