relentlessly by collectors but seldom found, this massive gothic fireplace with
over-mantel is an example of the illusive,
the irreplaceable, and the incomparable.
we've mentioned in other writings about French antique fireplaces and owing to concerns about safety and building
techniques, it was not until the late 19th century that wooden fireplaces and
mantels began to displace in popularity and affordability those made of more
fire-resistant materials such as stone and marble. Therefore, unlike other pieces characterized as Gothic Revival,
there is no medieval original in wood upon which 19th century craftsmen could
base their masterpieces. Instead, they
took the stylistic themes and decorative elements they knew from other pieces
of gothic furniture and applied them to the more modern fireplace.
we have offered other gothic revival fireplaces in the past, in all our years of
scouring Europe for them, we have only seen one other of this proportion (but,
regrettably, sold by the time we found it).
This one has lived out its life thus far in the Bordeaux region where it
was lovingly cared for, as evidenced by the excellent state in which it came to
walnut is a rich, warm brown - not too dark, not too light (despite the
variations in the photos, since color is difficult to capture
consistently). Ideal in its hue, the color
designed to enhance the viewer's enjoyment of the intricately carved tracery
and arches within arches, reminiscent of countless cloisters across medieval France. Particularly remarkable are the cluster
columns forming the verticals framing the firebox and evoking their stone
forbears who supported the great gothic cathedrals of France.
The wooden fireplace itself breaks down into
three pieces: the base framing the
firebox, a middle frieze, and an over mantel.
Together, they blend beautifully in a balanced design with dramatic
effect. To those are added the cast
iron surround and fire back that fit inside the wooden fireplace (as shown
separately below). The decorative theme
of the surround is ermine tails (for more about the symbolism of ermines, see
chair 4111), perhaps paying tribute to the firm that made it in Nantes (Meubles
Robert) in the Brittany region. The
fire back, with an image of a stonebreaker, is reminiscent of Gustave Courbet's
painting of the same name, destroyed in World War II in the bombing of Dresden.
It is a reminder of the importance of the cantonniers
or road-menders to the daily life of rural France in
the 19th century, responsible for keeping France's vast
road system in working order before the heyday of concrete
and asphalt paving.
Patrice, Les Styles du Moyen Age à Louis XIV
(Baschet et Cie, Paris, 1979); Burckhardt, Monica, Mobilier Moyen-Age,
Renaissance (Editions Ch. Massin, Paris, Undated); Robb, Graham, The
Discovery of France (Norton, 2007); Viollet-le-Duc, Eugène, Le
Mobilier Médiéval (Georges Bernage, editor) (Editions Heimdal, 2003)