Design for a chimney-piece 

Creator(s):   Grinling Gibbons 1648-1721

Date:    Undated, but datable 1689-94

Accession Number:   SM110/23

Dimensions:   605mm h x 410mm w

Materials:   Pen and brown ink over graphite under-drawing, with grey-brown, yellow ochre and pink wash; on laid paper

Location:   Sir John Soane's Museum

Credit Line (copyright notice for material) :   © Sir John Soane's Museum

Online Catalogue Entry :


Design for a chimney-piece with displays of porcelain on the overmantel and above the fire surround, and with draped upholstery across the overmantel. Although the narrow bands of cast shadow around the porcelain and drapery features suggest semi-relief trompe l’oeil carvings, it is far more likely that Gibbons intended a real-life display but had not yet considered the practicalities of supporting the porcelain and allowing sufficient depth for the vases and their brackets. Displays of porcelain on shelves and brackets of an overmantel were commonplace in seventeenth century Holland; Daniel Marot illustrates several examples in his Nouveaux Livre de Cheminées à la Hollandaise. Gibbons had this type in mind but at this stage appears to have been less interested in the practicalities of the design than in its overall composition. Carved and painted drapery (itself decorated with porcelain motifs) would have provided the backing for the porcelain itself. The fire surround and mantel shelf would have been in stone or marble rather than wood. The unusual grey-wash shading all round the top and sides is probably intended to emphasise the suitability of the scheme for a variety of locations, including a corner position. It is not clear whether the yellow ochre is indicative of painting or gilding. On the right side of the design Gibbons has drawn a more deeply projecting cornice above the outline of a larger supporting bracket. The entablature has a coved cornice with acanthus leaf decoration similar to that of 110/58 (section 6/2, no. 1), which is close to the executed cornice in the King’s Little Bedchamber (see Thurley 2003, fig. 193). Another connection with this group in the motif of two rose bushes twisted together above the fire surround. This occurs on 110/62 (section 6/2, no. 4), and may suggest that the two drawings are close in date. The paper appears to be of the same type as used for the drawings in sections 6/1 and 2 (110/32, 35-38, and 110/58-60, 62), although no watermark is visible. The architrave of the fire surround is also detailed in an identical way to those in section 6/1. No scale is indicated but the height of the chimney-piece on the drawing from the base to the top of the cornice is 18 inches. The height from the floor to the top of the cornice in the principal rooms of the king’s and queen’s apartments is 22 feet. On that basis the scale of the drawing is in the region of 1 ft to 4/5 inch.


Thurley 2003, pp.178-80, fig. 165; Wren Society, IV, pl. 37, lower; Green, 1964, fig. 85

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