Games of Childhood, Utmost rare fireplace in Statuary marble with putti in high relief

Statuary and Black Marquina marbles.

Height : 132 cm (52”) ; Width : 204 cm (80” 5/16) ; Depth : 45 cm (17” 3/4)

Late 19th century, Italy.

Childhood is the subject of this antique fireplace, entirely carved in high relief in the Statuary marble. Three groups of children illustrate immemorial games: the swing, Blind Man's Bluff and finally Hot Cockles. Playing among vines, these putti have been imagined in the line of Children Bacchanalia representations from Renaissance. These games, which were already played in Antiquity, the nakedness of bodies, and finally the theme of childhood, immerse us into a vision of the golden age, a mythical time still spared from toil and corruption.
The structure of our fireplace, abandoning the styles of the 18th century, has an organic appearance, reminiscent of Nature. An extremely rare and original piece, this fireplace comes from the area of Genoa, in Italy and was realized in the late 19th century.

A Children Bacchanalia

François Du Quesnoy, Bacchanalia of putti, 1630, Galleria Spadia, Rome, Italy.

These putti playing in vines remind us unequivocally of the Bacchanalia of putti iconography which developed as early as the 16th century. Instead of the procession of Satyrs and Maenads, Renaissance artists like Titian represent toddlers, among vine branches, playing with goats and drinking wine. In sculpture, François Du Quesnoy has established himself as an inescapable reference of these Bacchanalia of putti in low-relief, very admired by the Italians who called him "il fattore di putti".
Many Parisian buildings facades from the 18th and 19th centuries are decorated with these scenes directly inspired by Du Quesnoy. Putti are usually represented in these moments of joy and effervescence, which slowly get rid the attributes of Bacchus. Thus, the putti of our fireplace, in the middle of the heavy clusters of grapes, are clearly inspired by this iconography. Instead of goats and cups of wine, the children play ancestral games that evoke the golden age of humanity.

Immemorial games
Bacchanalia of putti in low-relief, 37 avenue du Président Franklin Roosevelt,
Guy Flavien Place, Sceaux, Hauts de Seine.

The three represented games are indeed reputed to go back to the most remote times. The swing, represented on the right by a simple rope, was already part of the cult of Bacchus' feasts, the god of drunkenness and mysteries.

On the left, three children play Blind Man's Bluff, which is also traceable in Antiquity under the name of the "Game of the bronze fly", narrated by Suetonius.

Blind Man’s Bluff, in the Little Book of Love by Pierre Sala, circa 1500, British Library, London, United Kingdom.

Finally, Hot Cockles is represented on the fireplace's frieze. Very well known from the 17th to the 19th century, it was also reputed to date back to the oldest times. Jacques Stella, an engraver of the 17th century, illustrates this with naked children in his book Plays and Pleasures of Childhood, 1657. The game consists in striking in turns the hand of a player, who keeps it in his back, and must guess who hit him. A guard is responsible for checking that he does not cheat, holding the player's head between his knees.

The « Frappe Main » (Hot Cockles), plate from Plays and Pleasures of Childhood by Jacques Stella, 1657.
Heim, The « Frappe Main », painting in the Salon des Jeux at the Hotel de Lassay, Assemblée Nationale, Paris, France.

An extraordinary fireplace

This extraordinary fireplace, covered with sculptures which form a real ode to vitality, also has a very singular form. Indeed, before the end of the century, decorators respect the repertoire of past styles which allows to structure a fireplace with jambs in the form of consoles or pilasters, on which one can add sculptures.
Thus, it is very rare to see a form so organic, as modeled, for a work carved in Statuary marble. Here, the opening of the fireplace is delimited by ivy. Two feet of vines rise on each of the jambs, carved with special attention to the bark, the shapes of the leaves and the curls of the vines.

Bunches of grapes sculpted in high relief, the leaves overlapping, give the impression of being tender and supple, thanks to the skill of the sculptor.
This work, most likely carried out according to the wishes of a private sponsor, is thus the work of a talented artist. Statuary marble, which befits precious sculptures, makes this fireplace an exceptional piece. The noble materials of statuary art and the ancient iconography are used to realize a modern and unique work.

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