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Wharton, Edith, 1862-1937; Codman, Ogden / The decoration of houses

VI: Fireplaces,   pp. 74-88

Page 78

          The Decoration of Houses
easy to see that a school which tried to combine the structure of the
one with the ornament of the other was likely to fall into incohe-
rent modes of expression; and this was precisely what happened
to French domestic architecture at the end of the Renaissance
period.  It has been the fashion to describe the art of the Louis
XIV period as florid and bombastic; but a comparison of the de-
signs of Philibert de Lorme and Androuet Ducerceau with those
of such men as Levau and Robert de Cotte will show that what
the latter did was not to introduce a florid and bombastic manner,
but to discard it for what Viollet-le-Duc, who will certainly not
be suspected of undue partiality for this school of architects, calls
"une grandeur solide, sans faux ornements."     No better illustra-
tion of this can be obtained than by comparing the mantel-pieces
of the respective periods.'  The Louis XIV mantel-pieces are much
simpler and more coherent in design.   The caryatides supporting
the entablature above the opening of the earlier mantels, and the
full-length statues flanking the central panel of the over-mantel,
are replaced by massive and severe mouldings of the kind which
the French  call mdie (see mantels in Plates V and XXXVI).
Above the entablature there is usually a kind of attic or high con-
cave member of marble, often fluted, and forming a ledge or shelf
just wide enough to carry the row of porcelain vases with which
it had become the fashion to adorn the mantel.   These vases, and
the has-relief or picture occupying the central panel above, form
the chief ornament of the chimney-piece, though occasionally the
crowning member of the over-mantel is treated with a decoration
of garlands, masks, trophies or other strictly architectural orna-
 1 ~ is curious that those who criticize the ornateness of the Louis XIV
style are
often the warmest admirers of the French Renaissance, the style of all others
most re-
markable for its excessive use of ornament, exquisite in itself but quite
unrelated to
structure and independent of general design.

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