These unusual French fireplace plaques depict figures representing Justice, Prudence, and Fortitude or Courage. They are 3 of the 4 cardinal virtues from Classical Antiquity. These date to the 1600’s, and would have originally been placed within the fireplace surround. Pieces such as this would have filled the gap between the chimney opening and the fireplace mantel, along the back wall and sides. As shown below, we begin with Justice on left. The figure is seen holding a balance and scales. The smaller plaque in the center represents Prudence, which is often seen with a serpent and mirror. On the right is Force or Courage, depicted here by a warrior with sword, armor, and helmet symbolizing brave endurance, strength and perseverance.
Firebacks or fireplace plaques were cast in iron from original wooden carvings. They were first used about 500 years ago as a decorative way to reflect heat out into the room, rather than up the chimney. These incredibly detailed fireplace panels can be seen in the book Plaques De Cheminee by Henry Carpentier (1967).
CONDITION: Very good antique condition commensurate with age of 1600’s. Two holes bored in each panel for attaching them to something specific (added later). There is minor rusting and very minor wear to relief of figures.
Left: H=41 5/8, W=14 3/4, Center: H=39 1/2, W=13 7/8, Right: H=41 5/8, W=14 3/8. Depth 1.25 and 1 1/8 for center
Rare Set of 17th Century Cast Iron French Fireplace Plaques, Justice, Prudence, and Courage