Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Mystery Object Unscreened

Thank you to everyone who played along with my Mystery Object last week. Alas, stumping most of you was not in the cards: the objects depicted in the Ackermann’s Repository print I posted are indeed firescreens.

So what is a firescreen?

In the days before oil burners and thermostat-controlled central heating, fireplaces were more or less it for keeping warm…and while you might want to sit as close to the fire as possible to stay toasty, having your face close to open flames could prove deleterious to the complexion…and if we go back to earlier centuries, when paste makeup was more common, sitting to close to the fire would cause one’s face to…well, let’s just say that streaks of melting makeup running down one’s cheeks is NOT an attractive look. And so the firescreen was invented, to protect one’s delicate visage from too much heat, but still allow sticking close to the fire.

But firescreens also became an opportunity, of sorts. Here’s the text that accompanies this Ackermann print:

The talent for drawing, which has been cultivated with so much success by some ladies of high rank, enabled them to decorate several articles of furniture in a very novel and tasteful manner. A laudable emulation in the higher circles caused this species of art to become a fashion, and an extensive variety of ornamental furniture has been produced by ladies; many articles of which have lost nothing even in comparison with the work of very clever professional artists.

There are few pieces of furniture so appropriate to the purpose of decoration in this style as the screen, either for the hand, or to be supported by poles: four designs for the latter are introduced in the annexed plate; they exhibit the proportions and forms applicable, which may be ornamented as the taste of the amateur may suggest, either by figures, landscapes, vases, flowers, or simply by Etruscan or embossed gold borders.

Small paravents [folding screens] would afford ample means for the exercise of the elegant talent of design, and be beautiful and useful appendages to the drawing-room.

So there you have it: when handsome young men pay calls on days when there's the least bit of chill in the air, you make sure there's a cracking good fire in the drawing room...and then make sure that one of the firescreens you painted with an attractive prospect of the seashore at Brighton, drawn from memory, is in prominent view. Thusly can you protect your delicate complexion and demonstrate your exquisite talent and taste, all at the same time. Sounds like a reasonable idea to me!

Thanks for playing along with my Mystery Object. :)

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