Placed under the burning logs, andirons, or firedogs, allow the air to circulate under the wood and to fan the flames. An andiron consists of an iron bar on which the logs are placed, and a decorative head.
In French, they are called “chenets”, a noun coming from the word "dog", that refers to the role of this tool that keeps the fire, and their shape reminiscent of sitting dogs. That is why the English language also calls them "firedogs". It is also common to see andirons decorated with dogs lying or sitting, standing guard over the hearth, and more symbolically of the hearth of home. Perpetuating this idea, these dogs were sometimes replaced by lions, or sphinxes, for Marie Antoinette and under the Empire.
The utility of the andirons quickly became obvious. The ruins of Pompeii, show that lifting fire on iron bars was already a known process in the Antiquity. In the Middle Ages, the andirons are very tall, as are the fireplaces, and are equipped in the kitchen with receptacles to keep dishes warm. In the Renaissance they began to be made of bronze, which is lighter than iron. The Renaissance andiron is usually topped with a ball. Then, in the classical age, the bourgeoisie and the aristocracy of the seventeenth century were systematically equipped with andirons, often in copper. The decorative interest of the andirons developed under Louis XIII, where we see the appearance of silver andirons ordered by Cardinal Mazarin. Versailles Palace thus counted under Louis XIV some forty pair of silver firedogs, but they were melted to fuel the war effort of the Sun King. The 18th century, true golden age of andirons, leaves out silver and brass to the benefit of gilt bronze. Like the rest of the interior decoration, the andiron is designed and redesigned by the great ornamentalists of the Louis XV and Louis XVI styles, to the extent that Versailles Palace and Trianon have a very wide variety of them.
RARE PAIR OF CAST IRON ANDIRONS SHAPED AS LAYING DOGS
Wallonia, 16th century
Dimensions : W : 3” ⅛, H: 7” ⅛, D : 16” ⅞
Product of the popular figurative art of Wallonia, this pair of andirons made in the 16th century in cast iron shows a naive beauty but is also a testimony of some kind of aesthetic concerns. Made in a zoomorphic shape, the Musée Gaumais, where a similar pair is preserved, describes them as a representation of laying dogs. However, our andirons shows distinctly the representation of hair all around the neck suggesting a mane. Furthermore the representation of the head can also lets us think that a lion is represented instead of a dog. The author of those andirons didn't only give a shape to their visible parts. Indeed the back shows as much precised details with the add of a relief scroll on each side, in which we can see a stylization of the back legs. Also, a small ornamental bolection was added on the andiron's body
It’s a very certain inventive spirit, a dexterity but also a sensitivity that the popular art in Wallonia expresses through this pair of andirons.The Wallonia is a French speaking region of the Belgium’s south. It is famous for its medieval cities and its Renaissance architecture. Nevertheless, we can’t find a real stylistic unity in the region because of the neighbors variety and sometimes the different influences from the outside, without saying the individualism.
In olden days, we could count simultaneously and on a very small area, subjects of the Liège Prince-Archbishop, Limbourg or Luxembourg Duke, Prince-Abbot of Stavelot-Malmedy, Namur or Hainaut Count, either independent or under the Burgundian, Spanish, Austrian or French tutelage. This historic past that has divided the actual Wallonia into divided political territories, sometimes rivals, can also explains this dispersal.
A similar model is conserved in the Musée Gaumais and is illustrated in page 22 in the book l’Art populaire en Wallonie.
SURPRISING PAIR OF VARNISHED EARTH ANDIRONS DEPICTING WOMAN BUSTS
North Italy, circa 1850
Dimensions W: 3″1/8, H : 6″ 1/4, D : 13″
This pair of andirons is quite original because of the material used to create them. Indeed, very often we find andirons made of cast iron or wrought iron but not many in ceramic. Our pair of andirons is the work of an art craftsman, living in the old Duchy of Savoy in the north west of the actual Italy, annexed by France under the Second Empire, while the rest of the Italian peninsula territories are integrated to the new kingdom of Italy.
Duchy of Savoy between 1416 and 1792
The shape of these anthropomorphic andirons are quite simple, they are decorated with women busts of which each face’s lines and strand of hair have been marked carefully, while the front is adorned with neoclassical decoration with volutes. Sculpted in terra cotta, they were next, enameled with a brown glaze.
A similar pair of andirons were presented during the exhibition « Terres de feu, de lumière et de songes » in 2009 by les Ateliers Thérèse Neveu and are illustrated on the exhibition catalogue at page 18. This event was the occasion to reunite many ceramic objects used to heat, light and smoke.
LARCHEVÊQUE, Pair of wrought iron andirons with wiking inspired decoration
France, late 19th century
Dimensions : W : 22'' ⅞, H : 46'', D : 32'' ⅝
The Larchevêque were a family of art metalworkers, in a small French Town Mehun-sur-Yèvres. Their work is unfortunately not that much studies, we only know that we owe them the realization of the railings of the Bourges cathedral and that they received Emile Robert (1860 – 1924), who lived in the same town, for his apprenticeship during two years when he was only 13 years old after the death of his father.
They’re mentioned in the book L’architecture published in 1898 in the G. Delarue editions where we learn that they won the medal of the industrial art : « La médaille des industriels d’art (fondation Sédille) a été cette année attribuée à M. Larchevêque, entrepreneur à Mehun-sur-Yèvres. Je devrais plutôt dire à la famille Larchevêque, car de générations en générations, l’habileté professionnelle, l’amour du Beau, se sont perpétués dans cette famille, non pas de serruriers, le terme serait trop faible, mais de ferronniers. » (The medal of the Industrial art (fondation Séville) was attributed this year to M. Larchevêque, business man in Mehun-sur-Yèvres. I should rather say to the Larchevêque family, because from generation to generation, the professional skill, the love of the Beautiful, were carried on in this family of, not locksmith, the word would be to weak, but metalworkers).
This article refers to the realization of our andirons which are showing a real technical achievement. They are original thanks to their important dimension allowing its decor inspired by the viking aesthetic. It depicts a mix of a multitude of snakes and dragons that are adorning the totality of the andiron front part. They climb along the twisted support, finished by a dragon head holding in its mouth a snake. The artist brought a special attention to the richness of the details by chiseling the entirety of the bodies with scales motif and by adding plants in the decor.
This viking style also called « dragon style » or « drakstill » is a north version and more precisely from Norway, of “Art & Craft” movement of the end of the 19th century. It promotes a return to the past in architecture and furniture by choosing shapes that remind the viking ornaments such as the organic scrolls, snakes, or dragons, a repertoire supplied by the archaeological discoveries of the viking boats between 1867 and 1903.
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