Sunday, January 31, 2010

Conserving The Fireback

This is the fireback in our front room fireplace - recently restored using a special wax. It is probably mid-eighteenth century. It could be from the Netherlands, but could also have been made in America. Firebacks were very common in Colonial fireplaces, increasing the efficiency of the fire by reflecting the heat back into the room.
Ours seems to depict the king of the gods, Zeus, in an angry mood, gathering clouds and throwing thunderbolts. In Greek mythology, Zeus didn't want humans to have fire, so Prometheus stole it and gave it to them so that they could keep warm and cook, and defend themselves from animals.
On the left you can see two eagles. Eagles are associated with Zeus but might also refer to the way that, in his fury, he tied Prometheus up and had eagles peck his liver out, because Prometheus seemed to value friendship with humans more than reverence for the king of the gods. Being immortal himself, Prometheus' liver continually grew back only to be pecked out again and again........but he was eventually rescued.......In Aeschylus's play 'Prometheus Bound', this myth is used to portray how friendship is morally superior to tyranny.
We think it's an interesting connection, fire and friendship - after all, an open hearth fire evokes feelings of companionship and warmth.....and better to muse on that than worry about being struck by thunderbolts!