University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Link to University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Link to University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Digital Library for the Decorative Arts and Material Culture

Page View

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

VI: Fireplaces,   pp. 74-88

Page 80

8o           The Decoration of Houses
  In France, mirrors had by this time replaced pictures in the cen-
tral panel of the over-mantel; but in Italian decoration of the
same period oval pictures were often applied to the centre of the
mirror, with delicate lines of ornament connecting the picture and
mirror frames.1
  The earliest fireplaces were lined with stone or brick, but in
the sixteenth century the more practical custom of using iron
fire-backs was introduced.     At first this fire-back consisted of a
small plaque of iron, shaped like a headstone, and fixed at the
back of the fireplace, where the brick or stone was most likely
to be calcined by the fire.  When chimney-building became more
scientific, the size of the fireplace was reduced, and the sides of
the opening were brought much nearer the flame, thus making it
necessary to extend the fire-back into a lining for the whole fire-
  It was soon seen that besides resisting the heat better than any
other substance, the iron lining served to radiate it into the room.
The iron back consequently held its own through every subse-
quent change in the treatment of the fireplace; and the recent
return, in England and America, to brick or stone is probably due
to the fact that the modern iron lining is seldom well designed.
Iron backs were adopted because they served their purpose better
than any others; and as no new substance offering greater advan-
tages has since been discovered, there is no reason for discarding
them, especially as they are not only more practical but more
decorative than any other lining.   The old fire-backs (of which
reproductions are readily obtained) were decorated with charm-
ing bas-reliefs, and their dark bosses, in the play of the firelight,
  1 Examples are to be seen in several rooms of the hunting-lodge of the
kings of
Savoy, at Stupinigi, near Turin.

Go up to Top of Page