Verre églomisé, or gilded glass, was a term coined by Jean-Baptiste Glomy in the eighteenth century. Gold leaf is adhered to the back sides of glass and inserted into casings on furniture, signs, reliquaries, decorative arts, jewelry, etc. The gilding is often accompanied by reverse painting. Églomisé has been around since ancient times. Romans, for instance, used this decorative technique. The process was later revived in Neoclassical and Federal styles of furniture. In Hidden Treasures: Searching for Masterpieces of American Furniture, Leigh Keno chronicles his acquisition and sale of a c. 1800 Philadelphia Federal mahogany and églomisé secretary. I certainly don’t own any furniture of this quality, but I do have some accessible examples of églomisé.
This is my églomisé mirror from Nantucket. I’ve heard that it features Esmeralda, from the ballet of the same name. La Esmeralda was inspired by Victor Hugo’s Notre Dame de Paris (you might know it better as The Hunchback of Notre Dame). The ballet was first presented in London on March 9, 1844. While this story is charming, I don’t believe it relates to my mirror. If it were true, then this mirror would date to approximately 1845. Based on the dancer’s costume and other mirrors of this style, I think it dates closer to 1820; well before La Esmeralda.
Though I can’t confidently pinpoint the date of the mirror, one thing is certain: its theatricality. The sweeping red and blue tassled curtains juxtapose the vibrant greens of the floor and backdrop. The dancer totters playfully while swinging a garland of roses. She is supported by one tiny slippered foot. There is very little gold left on this piece; only a thin circle of gold leaf that surrounds the ballet vignette. At one time, I suspect there was some gilding (or at least gold-tinted paint) where the losses on the border are today.
I have a twentieth-century example of églomisé as well.
This is my 1957 Seth Thomas banjo clock. I bought it for its compact size, elegant silhouette, and striking églomisé (from the front, that is). As opposed to my mirror, everything about this clock was mass-produced; even the églomisé. A faux metallic was applied to the reverse of the glass and the cream areas were not painted. Rather, pieces of paper stamped with factory numbers were inserted into the casings. Quick and easy. I will admit, it makes a very clean-looking façade; but the back of the clock and lack of workmanship are disappointing. Clearly, églomisé has become economical – a far cry from its origins.