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Interior Details: Fireplaces
After the enclosed wall fireplace superseded the Medieval open hearth at the start of the 16th century, the fireplace, and particularly the mantelpiece, became the dominant architectural feature and focal point of the Classical room. Except in some Modernist interiors, it has retained that status to this day, largely due to the suitability of its parts to Classical ornamentation.
Notable features included jambs (vertical sides) in the form of columns, pilasters, caryatids, and herms (male deities); marble or tiled slips (the strips that are set into the fireplace); friezes embellished with medallions, rosettes, scrolling foliage, urns, lyres, swags, cameos, or mythological scenes; mantelshelves edged with Classical moldings; and overmantels that incorporate mirror glass or paintings.
The most prestigious mantelpieces were carved from white statuary or colorfully veined marble, or porphyry (a variegated stone); sandstone, limestone, slate, granite, plaster, scagliola (imitation marble), hardwoods, cast iron, copper, and steel were also used. From the 17th century, mantelpieces that were made from pine, painted to resemble marble or finely figured hardwoods, were less costly alternatives.
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Text copyright © 1998 by Vista 2000