Fireplace Fireback / Plaque de Feu
Here at Giraudière, two cast iron fireplate plaques, fabicated in 1659,
were found in two different fireplaces
of the original Master’s house which was built around that time.
The first plaque is hexagonal in shape approximately 70 centimeters in
width and length. At the centre is
a shield showing the fleur-de-lys, once the symbol of the French
Kingdom. On top of it is the Royal crown,
symbolic of authority. On both sides, flanking the shield and crown are
two palm branches, which since
antiquity have been symbolic of victory, triumph, peace, and eternal
life. Christianity sees the palm branch as victory of the spirit over
The second plaque is a square of the same dimension. At the base is
Saint Eustace, a 2nd century patron
saint of hunters, and anyone facing adversity.
Eustace was the Roman general Placidus, who while hunting in Tivoli
near Rome, saw the vision of a crucifix
stuck between a stag’s antlers. This affected him so much, he
decided to convert to Christianity.
A little about the history of Plaque de Feu
A fireplace fireback, placed against the back wall of the fireplace, is
a piece of heavy cast iron, sized according
to the fireplace and the fire.
The houses on which these fireplaces are seen cover a wide range from
mansions to humble cottages,
the majority to be found in the homes of poor people.
While its primary purpose is to protect the wall at the back of the
fireplace from cracking and chipping
this was especially important with daub, (a mud-straw mixture coating
on interwoven wooden wattles), brick,
and soft stone. With the development of cast iron, protective metal
plates allowed fires to be placed safely
Its secondary function, which is more important to the householder, is
to radiate the heat stored in the metal
by the fire. This increases the efficiency of wood fires by 50%,
depending on the thickness of the cast iron.
In France, wood burning open fireplaces remained popular, and firebacks
continued to be produced there
well into the 19th. century. The oldest fireback dates back to 1460
during the incipient days of iron casting.
Indeed, the early firebacks were decorative with simple designs
derived from mundane items such as biscuit
and wafer moulds and were made of brick, stone, and later metal.
Originally, firebacks were luxury items, used exclusively by royalty
and aristocracy. Thus the early firebacks
show their crowns and coats of arms. Later, the firebacks, popular also
in Germany, recorded more
decorative and pictorial designs with religious, mythological, and
allegorical themes as well as classical
stories involving churches, nature, and rural lives, always reflecting
their timelessness, beauty, and
With the increasing use of coal and naural gas, the decline of
firebacks was inevitable. Nevertheless,
even today, companies in the United States and England replicate some
of the antique fireplates.
au Feu is an article written by Reuben Lachmansingh
describing the history of the French fireplace
fireback and those found and restored at La Giraudiere.