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Wharton, Edith (1862-1937); Codman Jr., Ogden (1863-1951) / The decoration of houses

VI: fireplaces,   pp. 74-88

Page 77

                        Fireplaces                        77
 In Italy the early Renaissance mantels were usually of marble.
French mantels of the same period were of stone; but this mate-
rial was so unsuited to the elaborate sculpture then in fashion
that wood was sometimes used instead.   For a season richly carved
wooden chimney-pieces, covered with paint and gilding, were in
favor; but when the first marble mantels were brought from Italy,
that sense of fitness in the use of material for which the French
have always been distinguished, led them to recognize the superi-
ority of marble, and the wooden mantel-piece was discarded: nor
has it since been used in France.
 With the seventeenth century, French mantel-pieces became
more architectural in design and less florid in ornament, and the
ponderous hood laden with pinnacles, escutcheons, fortified cas-
tles and statues of saints and warriors, was replaced by a more
severe decoration.
 Thackeray's gibe at Louis XIV and his age has so long been
accepted by the English-speaking races as a serious estimate of
the period, that few now appreciate the artistic preponderance
of France in the seventeenth century.  As a matter of fact, it is to
the schools of art founded by Louis XIV and to his magnificent
patronage of the architects and decorators trained in these schools
that we owe the preservation, in northern Europe, of that sense
of form and spirit of moderation which mark the great classic tra-
dition.  To disparage the work of men like Levau, Mansart, de
Gotte and Lebrun, shows an insufficient understanding, not only
of what they did, but of the inheritance of confused and turgid
ornament from which they freed French art.'  Whether our indi-
vidual tastes incline us to the Gothic or to the classic style, it is
 1 It is to be hoped that the recently published English translation of M.
Bourgeois's book on Louis XIV will do much to remove this prejudice.

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