This extraordinary cast iron fireback from France is close to 38 inches tall, and it is unique in that it has historical significance. It bears the royal coat of arms of the house of La Tour d’Auvergne, and was cast around the year 1650. This heraldry belongs to the cadet branch of the family. Its cadet branch, extinct in 1802, ruled the duchy of Bouillon in the Southern Netherlands from 1594, and held the dukedoms of Albret and Château-Thierry in the peerage of France since 1660.
The oldest known firebacks date to around 1460, but very few have survived. These impressive cast iron works of art were placed inside the chimney, against the back wall. They served to not only prevent heat from escaping into the wall, but more importantly, to reflect the heat back into the room. The stone walls inside a Chateau were cold and damp, so firebacks soon became very popular in the large properties of France. These heraldic firebacks served an important symbolic reminder of the strength of the family, and were placed inside the heart of the chimney, within the most important room of the Chateau: “La Grande Salle”.
The central cartouche that contains the coat of arms is surrounded by two inverted cornucopias decorated with the royal Fleur de Lys. On the opposite side of each of these is a fantastic large rampant griffin, which is a mythological creature combining a lion and an eagle. Above each griffin and extending upward from the main body of the plaque, are two stylized towers of a medieval French “Chateau Fort”. These are to represent the “Tours of Auvergne”. The top of the fireback is crowned by a thick scrolling rinceaux of acanthus leaves.
Members of this cadet branch (La Tour d’Auvergne-Turenne) included lords, dukes, princes and most famously, viscounts. Henri de La Tour d’Auvergne, (1611–1675), was the most illustrious member of the family and the Viscount of Turenne. Turenne, as he is often called, was an elite military tactician who overcame physical infirmity and a speech impediment in his youth. It is said that his father once told him that he would never be strong enough to bear the fatigues of war. However, Turenne would later become the Marshal General of France, one of only six to ever receive this title, which gave him authority over all of France’s armies. He was one of the greatest military commanders during the reign of Louis XIV, beginning his military career in the Thirty Years’ War (from 1625). He subsequently commanded the royal armies in the civil war of the Fronde (1648–53) and in the French invasion of the Spanish Netherlands (1667).
Highly regarded as one of the greatest generals in modern history, Napoleon had his soldiers study the campaigns of Turenne so that they could become better leaders. Turenne is often named with The Great Conde of France and Raimondo Montecuccoli of Italy when discussing the pre-eminent military commanders of 17th century Europe. In an interesting twist, Turenne fought both master strategists on numerous occasions. When Turenne was killed by a cannonball at the Battle of Salzbach (while fighting Montecuccoli), his Italian counterpart exclaimed “a man is dead today who did honor to man”.
Based on Turenne’s accomplishments, it is no surprise that such a grand fireback was cast for his family. It has survived quite well during the past 350 plus years, considering the constant heat and rain (from within the chimney) which the iron must endure. Many of the noble firebacks of France were destroyed between 1793 and 1798. Those firebacks which managed to escape the sledgehammer were only because they were carefully hidden during these Revolutionary years.
The decorative elements are in a deep relief and still show magnificent detail. Today, you can once again use this fireback in a large fireplace, or affix it to a wall as a striking piece of historical art.
CONDITION: Good strong condition, wear commensurate to age and use. Weight approximately 340 lbs. Loss to bottom left portion as seen in photos.