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You are here: CollectionsOnline  /  [11] Design for a chimney-piece with a herm figure in the fire surround and putti on the mantel shelf, holding a blank cartouche beneath a portrait frame bordered by suspended fruit and flowers
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image SM, volume 110/49

Reference number

SM, volume 110/49

Purpose

[11] Design for a chimney-piece with a herm figure in the fire surround and putti on the mantel shelf, holding a blank cartouche beneath a portrait frame bordered by suspended fruit and flowers

Aspect

Elevation, unfinished on right

Scale

Not indicated, but about 1 inch to a foot

Inscribed

In ink by George Dance at bottom right, Gd, and to right in C19 hand, (48)

Signed and dated

Undated, but datable 1689-94

Medium and dimensions

Pen and brown ink over graphite under drawing with grey wash; on laid paper, with pinkish-brown blotching and staining in top 50 mm of sheet and early diagonal repair, 60 x 40 mm, in top right-hand corner; 419 x 260

Hand

Gibbons

Watermark

Strasbourg Lily / 4WR / AJ

Notes

In design and pen technique the drawing is close to 110/26. Both have similar fire surrounds with herm or caryatid figures set between a thin frame around the hearth and a deeply projecting convex moulding at the base of a large mantel-shelf pedestal. In each case the pedestal supports a pyramid-shaped sculptural group that is part of a larger triangular composition extending from the fire surround to the top of the overmantel. This side-to-centre movement is typical of Gibbons's mature designs for monumental sculpture and exemplified his increasing mastery of 'baroque' compositional devices (e.g. his monument to Earl Fauconberg, d.1700, at St Michael Coxwold, Yorks, in Beard, Grinling Gibbons, 1989, fig. 117). In the 1680s his statuary compositions are often disparate in character, with an imbalance between the scale or sculptural emphasis of the outer and central features (e.g. monument to German and Anne Pole, St Andrew Radbourne, Derbyshire, 1683-84; Beard, pl. 78).But though the design has affinities with 110/26, it is distinct from the designs for richly sculpted chimney-pieces this and the previous section (4) in several respects. There is no coloured wash; there is a small 'W' insignia in graphite at the centre of the wing motif above the hearth, rather than 'WM' intertwined; there is a single seated dove rather than a pair of sporting birds at the top of the overmantel; the nude herm figure has his head part-covered in drapery as if lifting a veil, an unusual, almost funerary device, untypical of chimney-piece statuary; and there is only a single crown above the cartouche. All these details may point to the design dating shortly after the death of Queen Mary in December 1694, but before William had finally decided to abandon work on the interiors of Hampton Court Palace. As a whole, the design has a mournful character, especially in the pose of the herm figure and the absence of colour. Moreover, it appears to be unfinished. The carved work of the fire surround and overmantel would probably have been in white-painted limewood, perhaps with the intention of imitating the appearance of marble.

Literature

Wren Society, IV, pl. 39, top

Level

Drawing

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Sir John Soane's collection includes some 30,000 architectural, design and topographical drawings which is a very important resource for scholars worldwide. His was the first architect’s collection to attempt to preserve the best in design for the architectural profession in the future, and it did so by assembling as exemplars surviving drawings by great Renaissance masters and by the leading architects in Britain in the 17th and 18th centuries and his near contemporaries such as Sir William Chambers, Robert Adam and George Dance the Younger. These drawings sit side by side with 9,000 drawings in Soane’s own hand or those of the pupils in his office, covering his early work as a student, his time in Italy and the drawings produced in the course of his architectural practice from 1780 until the 1830s.

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