The first place we think of placing a mirror is over the fireplace. In the late 18th century the invention of over-mantel mirrors launched a significant trend in the decoration of private mansions in Europe. Fireplace mantels were lowered and large horizontal mirrors, often in elaborate gold frames, were mounted above them. The facts are confirmed to us by the large mirrors over fireplace mantels at the end of the 17th century, but over-mantel mirrors became especially widespread during the Regency period.
Mirrors framed by gilded wood, richly carved in elaborate designs were placed above fireplace mantels. Candelabras and wall sconces often mounted on mirrored plates that refracted and multiplied light, decorative mirrors, and fireplace mantels. Overmantel mirrors became not just a fashionable trend but a testimony of good taste and luxury living.
Large horizontal mirrors placed over fireplace mantel became the most delicate invention, providing the most beautiful decorative effects in interior architecture. Mirrors top the list of “must-have” luxury home furnishings. Over-mantel mirrors were considered extraordinary embellishments and valued not solely for there size but mostly for there precious elaborately sculpted wooden gilded frames.
The mirror craze showed no sign of faltering. Instead, it grew as the century advanced. An architectural treatise written in the 18th century devotes more than ten pages to the indispensable rules governing the installation of the large mirrors. Color, purity, and regularity of over-mantel mirrors had to be checked while mirrors are being assembled, for “it would be ridiculous if a nymph who wanted to consult the charms of her beauty should meet, instead of a regular figure, a face that is squashed and crooked.” Such infatuation with overmantel mirrors incited an opinion that a home can not be pleasant without a fireplace mantel with a mirror over it.
The real estate listings in eightieth-century newspapers and magazines always mentioned over-mantel mirrors as an added attraction. The provinces were not yet familiar with the refinement of luxury that was the delight of large European cities, so advertisements were especially insistent. Within a few decades, the provinces followed the lead.
European aristocrats who frequently visited Versailles and other palaces had undoubtedly brought similar overmantel mirrors into their own surroundings. Ceremonial halls, great rooms, and bedrooms were almost always decorated with mirrors above the fireplace and between the windows.