Faces in the fire – caryatids and other carvings

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We see several recurring motifs in our fireplaces, and one of the most fascinating and compelling designs is that of the human face. Caryatids, putti, and masks are popular neoclassical features – and here are a few of our favourites.

A caryatid is a supporting column in the shape of a woman, seen most famously on the Acropolis of Athens. The term comes from the Greek “karyatides”, meaning “maidens of Karyai”, a Peloponnese town where the women danced while carrying baskets of reeds on their heads. In Classical architecture, this basket forms the capital of the column, with the female figure acting as the column below. Caryatids are a popular motif in Baroque and neoclassical architecture.

 

Caryatids add beautiful detail to this Regency Statuary marble fireplace. Of exceptional quality, the carving of the caryatids’ faces is exquisite. The centre panel is carved with playful little putto (more about these later), flanked by two masks and foliage. A beautiful, graceful piece that features three different types of Classical face.

The caryatids supporting this Georgian-style fireplace face sideways rather than outwards, giving the fire surround its unusual shape. Carved from stone, the figures have a rather more rustic appearance than the marble ones above, making them seem more like their architectural ancestors. The barrel frieze is another wonderful feature, with an abundance of detailed acanthus leaves. Unusually for the dramatic design, this is a petite antique fireplace and would make a stunning chimneypiece for a bedroom.

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We mentioned a putto earlier. From the Latin Putus meaning boy or child, he was a popular little figure who represented love, either earthly or divine. Always chubby and rather endearing, these Classical figures became fashionable again in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

This nineteenth-century marble fireplace from Thornhill Galleries has a charming central putto

The Classical theme continues with the Greek key pattern, beautifully picked out with the inlay of dramatic Tinos marble.

This English stripped pine fireplace has a similar little central putto. Have a look at the realistic detail of the carving – it’s a proper little child’s face. Behind the face we can see a quiver and arrows and the other beautifully-realised carvings include foliage, flowers, and fruit.

Was this Victorian limestone fireplace commissioned to celebrate a marriage? The initials “AB” and the date “1855” are carved in the centre of the frieze, and the top of the jambs feature carved male and female faces. Whatever its history, it’s a lovely fire surround in the Gothic design, which would be perfect if you want your fireplace to be a real talking point.

We’ve saved the most dramatic until last… The caryatid-inspired figures on this Regency-style fireplace are really brought to the fore, bronze against the white marble of the fireplace.

It features three female figures, the central mask and the statues on the jambs. Their expressions are serene, their faces flawlessly beautiful.

This is just a selection of Thornhill Galleries fireplaces with faces. There are some lovely, quirky, and unique designs in the collection – if you’d like to see some others, use our search function, and type in “caryatid”, “putti”, or “mask”. To find out more about our selection of antique fireplaces, please get in touch.

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