A Taste of Antiquity: 19th Century Parisian Chimneypiece
Thornhill Galleries has just acquired a simple yet elegant early 19th century Parisian fireplace. Originally from a hotel in the French capital, this fireplace is a rare example of Cipollino marble. First used by the ancient Greeks and Romans, whose Latin term for it was "marmor carystium" (meaning "marble from Karystos"). It was quarried in several locations on the south-west coast of the island of Euboea in Greece, between the modern-day cities of Styra and Karystos.
First used in ancient Greece, it was imported to Rome from the 1st century BC onwards - in his Natural History, Pliny the Elder tells a tale of how columns of this marble were used in the home of the eques Claudius Mamurra, who had been an engineer for Julius Caesar in his Gallic Wars. The quarries yielding it became imperial property and cipollino marble became common throughout Rome during the imperial period. It was principally used for column shafts, including large and mainly smooth ones, such as the columns of the pronaos of the temple of Antoninus and Faustina in the Forum in Rome. It was also used for sculpture, such as that of a crocodile in the Canopus at the Villa Adriana at Tivoli, where its colour was used to imitate the colour of crocodile skin. It continued to be mined and used by the Byzantine Empire well into the 5th century AD.
The elegant simplicity of the fireplace, with its panelled frieze and side blocks and reeded jambs, offers a perfect setting for the beautiful flowing coloured veins of the marble.