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

VI: fireplaces,   pp. 74-88

Page 76

76             The Decoration of Houses
face of the room.  In France, where Gothic methods of construc-
tion persisted so long after the introduction of classic ornament,
the habit of building out the chimney-breast continued until the
seventeenth century, and even a hundred years later French deco-
rators described the plan of sinking the fireplace into the thickness
of the wall as the "Italian manner."         The thinness of modern
walls has made the projecting chimney-breast a structural neces-
sity; but the composition of the room is improved by "furring
out" the wall on each side of the fireplace in such a way as to
conceal the projection and obviate a break in the wall-space.
Where the room is so small that every foot of space is valuable,
a niche may be formed in either angle of the chimney-breast, thus
preserving the floor-space which would be sacrificed by advan-
cing the wall, and yet avoiding the necessity of a break in the
cornice.  The Italian plan of panelling the space between mantel
and cornice continued in favor, with various modifications, until
the beginning of the present century.        In early Italian Renaissance
over-mantels the central panel was usually filled by a bas-relief;
but in the sixteenth century this was frequently replaced by a
picture, not hung on the panelling, but forming a part of it.'  In
France the sculptured over-mantel followed the same general lines
of development, though the treatment, until the time of Louis
XIII, showed traces of the Gothic tendency to overload with orna-
ment without regard to unity of design, so that the main lines of
the composition were often lost under a mass of ill-combined
 1 In Italy, where the walls were frescoed, the architectural composition
over the
mantel was also frequently painted.  Examples of this are to be seen at the
Vertemati, near Chiavenna, and at the Villa Giacomelli, at Maser, near Treviso.
This practice accounts for the fact that in many old architectural drawings
of ltalian
interiors a blank wall-space is seen over the mantel.

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