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More About Fireplaces

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

FROM the Elizabethan period and onwards, the fireplace was a subject of the first importance in the rooms. Mention has been made how, in many cases, the mantelpiece was made to dominate completely the room, and was often quite out of scale and was grotesque in its degree of elaboration. In some instances the lower portion was completely of stone with a wooden over-mantel, while in other examples the whole was of wood with merely the opening of stone or brick.

In the rooms designed by Inigo Jones or his school, the fireplaces were treated sympathetically with the remainder of the room, although their importance was in no way diminished. They were usually of stone or marble, or, when wood was employed, it was painted to match the walls. They usually took the form of a two-storey structure, often with pilasters or brackets sup-porting the mantelshelf, and with other pilasters above terminating with an entablature and pediment. A very favourite feature was the use of a portrait in the over-mantel surrounded by a heavily carved frame. A, in Fig. 89, is a rather simpler fireplace, built at Knole House, Sevenoaks. The use of the human mask, with heavy swags at either side, is typical of Inigo Jones. A more elaborate example is that in Fig. 54.

The dining-room at Thorpe Hall (Fig. 56) contains a good example of a fireplace by Webb. The lower portion is of marble and stone, while the overmantel is of wood in sympathy with the panelled walls.

During the Wren period the fireplace, although the subject of careful attention, was not made such an out-standing feature. The general impression given is that the whole consists of a flat background with decorative motifs applied, instead of being a complete structure in itself, as in the earlier types. The use of the picture in the overmantel was continued, and was usually surrounded by carvings in the bold Grinling Gibbons style. B, Fig. 89, is typical of a Wren fireplace, and shows the general tendency to eliminate the mantelshelf. Both fireplaces in Figs. 64 and 68 show this feature. The use of the ogee-shaped framing of the opening should be noted. At Belton (Fig. 6o), which is of the Wren period, the shelf is retained.

As the first half of the 18th century progressed the mantelpiece again gained in importance. That designed by Gibbs in Fig. 74, and the remarkable piece by Vanbrugh in Fig. 72, show the general tendencies.

At A, Fig. 90, is shown a Palladian fireplace of the second half of the century, when it usually terminated at the height of the shelf. The space above was invariably filled with a mirror or plaque in plaster or painted. At B is a typical Adam example. These two pieces, A and B, form an interesting comparison between the two contemporary schools. Adam work was far lighter and more delicate than that of the Palladian designers. The use of the centre panel, carved with classical subjects as in B, was a very common feature.

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