This beautiful 'Flower piece' overmantel-mirror is wreathed with an abundance of flowers, displayed on a pedestal and attended by winged sylvan deities, the Zephyr companions of Cupid and of the Spring Goddess Flora. While these festive winds recall the enchanted palace of Cupid described in Lucius Apuleius in The Metamorphoses, the beribboned and everblooming garland introduces the Roman concept of a 'Ver Perpetuum' Spring. This painted mirror, evokes the flower-wreathed portraits, and luxurious Louis Quatorze 'Roman' fashion adopted in the 1690s by the English court during the Reign of William III and Mary II. In particular the fashion was introduced in the Queen's Apartments at the Palaces of Whitehall, Kensington and Hampton Court under the direction of the French 'architect' Daniel Marot (d. 1752), who illustrated related Cupid-attended vases in his Nouveaux Livre de Tableaux de Portes, a chiminee utiles aux Peintres en fleurs, (c. 1700). Such paintings were a speciality of the Franco-Flemish artist Jean-Baptiste Monnoyer (d. 1699), who had previously been employed by Charles Le Brun at Versailles, 'to do the flower-part wherein he showed his excellence'. One such 'Large looking glass with flowers etc. in it' was executed by Monnoyer for the 'Looking Glass Closet' adjoining Queen Mary's gallery at Kensington; while Jakob Bogdani (James Bogedain) received £60 in 1694 for his work in the Queen Mary's 'Looking Glass Closet' at Hampton Court's Thames/Water Gallery. During this period (1694-96) the cabinet-maker Gerrit Jensen (Gerard Johnson) also charged for the provision of 'glasses' for the room. A few years later he charged again for 'Taking down all the glasses in the late Water Gallery in several rooms' (Mich. 1700/1). Daniel Defoe recorded how the Queen embellished this 'Water Gallery' and 'order'd all the little neat curious [fine wrought] things to be done, which suited her own conveniences, and made it the pleastantest little thing within doors that could possibly be made... (D.Defoe, A Tour through England and Wales, letter III, 1725). Celia Fiennes also noted that 'at the four corners were little rooms like closets or drawing rooms. One pannell'd all with Jappan another with Looking Glass and two with fine [embroidery] work under pannells of Glass...' (The Journeys of Celia Fiennes, ed. Morris, 1947.)
Monnoyer, celebrated as 'Baptise the flower-painter' was brought to England in the late 1680s by Ralph Montagu, 1st Duke of Montagu, and amongst his masterpieces are the flower pieces supplied for over-doors and overmantels of Montagu House, Bloomsbury. The present mirror is recorded as forming part of the Montagu/Buccleuch collection (J. Cornforth, 'Looking-Glass Mysteries', Country Life, 21 October 1993, pp. 72-75). However there is a possibility that it was originally executed for Moor Park, Hertfordshire, as a flowered mirror is also recorded as being incorporated in the house, that the court architect Hugh May (d. 1684) had built for James, Duke of Monmouth and his wife Anne Scott, suo jure, Duchess of Buccleuch. It was moved, together with some of Grinling Gibbons' carvings to Dalkieth Palace, near Edinburgh in 1700. The antiquarian George Vertue best summarised the art of Monnoyer, 'His flowers have generally in them a Looseness & Freedon of Pencilling, together with a Luster of an Ordonnance, very beautifull & surprising' (E. Croft-Murray, Decorative Painting in England, vol.I, London, 1962, pp.255 and 256).
We would like to thank Sebastian Edwards for this information acquired from the Royal accounts in the Public Record Office.