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History of the Mantelpiece

A Centuries-Long Story of Invention, Efficiency and Beauty

The stone hearth began as a sturdy utilitarian object but has over time transformed into an architectural focal point and showcase for art and design in the home. The evolution of the fireplace parallels the progression of fine art and on a more intimate scale; the selection of a mantelpiece can be a declaration of personal style and beauty for those with discerning taste.

If you are thinking of commissioning a Tartaruga mantelpiece for your home or for your client, you will find yourself part of a centuries-long tradition of bringing elegance and beauty into the home. Here, for your knowledge and reference is a short history of the fireplace and mantelpiece.

Necessity, the Mother of Invention

Fireplaces originated in the medieval period and were initially used for heat and cooking. Centrally located so occupants could gather around for warmth, stone hearths were large, open and mostly unadorned. Smoke passed through a roof opening or ‘lantern.’ As two-story buildings with timber floors became more common, fireplaces moved to the exterior stone wall for increased safety, with smoke venting via a chimney. By the 13th century, fireplaces were being placed near the interior of homes to avoid external wall projections. This move necessitated an additional structure to draw smoke up into the chimney — the forerunner of the overmantel.

Greater Efficiency, Increased Utility

We owe the shape of the modern firebox (tall and shallow with angled covings) to the British inventor Sir Benjamin Thomson or Count Rumford. The form Count Rumford engineered increased the amount of radiant heat, and more effectively conveyed smoke up through the flue. This resulted–at last–in smoke-free interiors. The Rumford fireplace (as it became known) created a sensation in London, and spread quickly. Finally, the indoor fireplace had achieved a level of usefulness and efficiency, lifting it out of the middle ages and into the parlors of the social elite.

An Object D’Art for the Home

With improved functionality and increased efficiency the design and ornamentation of the fireplace flourished. By this time, the term ‘mantelpiece’ included the decorative framework around the firebox opening. The 16th century brought the Tudor style, and the Italian Renaissance had a significant impact in Italy and abroad. The stylistic developments that occurred over the following centuries reflect the history of fine art itself. Many of the world’s great artists, sculptors and architects (Inigo Jones, Christopher Wren, Giambattista Piranesi and Frank Lloyd Wright) used the mantelpiece as a showcase for their artistry. No elegant residence was complete without a fireplace and mantel befitting the style and wealth of its owner, and complementing the architectural style of the home.

Owning a Piece Of History

Today, the fireplace is so much more than a source of heat or a cooking fire. A stone mantelpiece is a piece of permanent artwork that can reinforce the architectural style of your home or of a specific room. It is a personal reflection of the homeowner, but also a reflection of the inventiveness and artistry of mankind.
Tartaruga Design has revived the sculptural heritage of centuries past. Meticulous detailing, truthful interpretations of architectural periods and masterful craftsmanship give your unique Tartaruga stone mantelpiece its distinctive character. We are honored to be part of this history. For over twenty years we have continued the proud tradition of those artists and artisans who came before us.