Italian Verre églomisé IV
This 18th-century reverse glass painting – one in a series of seven – depicts a couple in a serene landscape. A male figure leans down toward a pond and extends his right arm in the direction of his female companion. The woman, clothed in gold, blue, and white garbs gazes longingly at the sky. Meanwhile, a herdsman and his flock, journeying through the hillside, cast an eye toward the young couple. When constructing reverse glass paintings, artists use the glass support differently from the traditional canvas or panel, as the glass forms the front of the painting rather than the back. As stated in the name of the technique, paint is applied to the reverse of the glass starting with the application of foreground details and highlights, followed by all background elements. The finished work is then viewed through the front face of the glass. This work is held in a simple wooden frame with a gilded rebate that accentuates the warm tones in the painting. The colour palettes, dark backgrounds, and decorative painted borders are synonymous across all seven paintings in the collection, unifying them as a series. Reverse glass painting was a popular technique used to create religious icons for reliquaries and portable altars in the Middle Ages. The technique was revived in the 18th century by a French decorator named Jean-Baptiste Glomy (1711–1786). Glomy would apply decorative designs and gilding onto the rear face of glass picture frames to give them added luminance. Reverse glass paintings were later called verre églomisé, in honour of the French decorator.
At this time in Italy, the city of Pompeii, destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE was rediscovered in 1748. Military engineer Rocque Joaquín de Alcubierre (1702–1780) led the earliest excavations at the site, uncovering an amphitheatre and an inscription “REI PUBLICAE POMPEIANORUM,” confirming the town’s name. A proper excavation of the site began in 1860, led by Italian archaeologist Guiseppe Fiorelli (1823–1896). The preservation of the city, buried beneath ash and rock, has been invaluable to the study of ancient city planning, land use, and anthropology.