Wednesday, July 20, 2011

"Lambrequins and the Chimney Gallery": Victorian design history

Lambrequins and the Gallery Chimney” is not the latest Harry Potter Blockbuster but rather refers to elements of period Victorian Design popular from about 1870-1885.

The fireplace was the focal point in the Victorian era. It was a place for entertaining, a place where the family congregated and as such was an important place in the Victorian home. Much as we might decorated  a fireplace mantle for Christmas. The Victorian mantle was an ever changing, ever decorated, point in the home. Warmer weather brought a significant change in how the mantle looked. It was not needed to heat the home so it was decorated and decorated and decorated.

Some of you may be familiar with the term “Lambrequin’ as a drapery, typically attached to a cornice however Lambrequin also refers to a piece of elaborately decorated material drapes on a fireplace mantle shelf. It was hand sewn and often with tassels or fringe. The quality of the sewing was critical, as this was viewed by guests, as they perused the many items on it.

The Lambrequin also served to ‘dress up an older plainer slate or marble mantle which were viewed as out of date by the 1870’s when all manner of elaborately faux painted and stenciled slate and cast iron mantle became popular. Victorians, being frugal were not going to toss out an expensive mantle because it was out of date. Another updating technique was to place elaborate screen in front of these mantles. As mass woodworking techniques came into being, one could order their mantle at the local lumberyard. In fact as things became more ‘co-ordinated’ amount the wealthy, firms like Herter Bros, offered matching drapery cornices and over-mantles so one had a truly perfect look.  You could order new wood over-mantles , sometimes ebonized to match an older cast iron mantle with multiple shelves often backed with multiple beveled mirrors.

These over-mantles with shelves went on to be called “gallery chimneys” in the Victorian era. Of course this look is easy to recreate with antiques and even for those who lack a fireplace, one can bring in a salvaged mantle attach it to a wall, put a summer cover in front of the opening and instant ‘decorative fireplace.”. With the advent of the shingle and craftsman styles these went by the wayside. Mantles were simplified and over-mantes were often taken off and put in an attic , basement or even tossed out. Period sewn Lambrequins are rare today and original examples of the sewn period Victorian textiles can bring thousands.


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