This beautiful cast iron fireback from the 1700’s depicts the royal arms of the Kingdom of France after the conclusion of the French Wars of Religion. The interesting aspect of this fireback is that it is in heraldic achievement. Heraldic achievement is a full presentation of all the heraldic elements that the bearer of a coat of arms is entitled to display. Sometimes when a coat of arms is displayed, it will just be the escutcheon, or shield, and whatever elements are emblazoned on it. With an achievement, it is possible to see other items such as crowns/coronets, supporters, and mottos – all of which are present here.
Before 1376, fleur de lys were presented on the Arms of France as seme, or an indefinite number. In this year, Charles V of France reduced the number of fleur de lys to three (referred to as “France modern”), to invoke the Holy Trinity. Another king, Francis I, also made a change to the Arms of France in 1515, changing the open crown to a closed crown. Both of these alterations appear on the escutcheon in the center of this fireback.
Surrounding the escutcheon are olive branches, which symbolizes peace. Beneath the center of the branches are badges, representing the order of the kingdom, depicting drums, swords, an arrow quiver, and a tree.
On either side of the escutcheon is a pair of winged angel attendants, or supporters. Supporters in heraldry are meant to prop the shield up. In France, supporters are strictly the name for animal attendants; humans and angels are called tenants, or holders. Our pair of angels are looking outward while blowing horns. They are heralds for the two realms of France: the Kingdom of France and the Kingdom of Navarre. Above their heads is a banner that contains the motto, Paix A*Tovs (the old French way of writing Paix a tous), which translates to “Peace to all”.
At the very bottom, on the tree badge, the date “1678” is emblazoned, perhaps referencing the year that this fireback was first designed.
The oldest firebacks date to the 15th century, when they were placed against the back walls of fireplaces to protect the wall and to reflect heat back into the room. You may still use this piece as originally intended or hang it above a stove in the kitchen as a decorative element.
CONDITION: Minor nicks and losses with some faded elements at the bottom. Very good antique condition with wear commensurate to age and use.