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Curfew

  • Place of origin:

    Netherlands (made)

  • Date:

    17th century (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Brass, repoussé (embossed), chased, punched, folded and rivetted.

  • Museum number:

    94-1891

  • Gallery location:

    Europe 1600-1815, Room 7, The Sheikha Amna Bint Mohammed Al Thani Gallery, case CA16

This curfew is a metal cover designed to enclose the embers of a fire at the end of the day. The curfew, from the French couvre-feu (fire cover) enabled the embers to be kept smouldering at night so that the fire could be re-lit easily the following morning with a puff of the bellows. Some curfews had ventiliation holes to allow small amounts of air to enter so that the fire was not completely starved of oxygen. This example is typical of those produced in the Netherlands and England during the second half of the 17th century.

Curfews were usually made in sheet brass or copper. This example is a fine quality example that would have furnished a wealthy middle class home. It is decorated in repoussé, a type of embossed decoration on metal, which is hammered from the back to create a design in relief. This fireguard has a mixture of embossed and engraved decoration to create areas of high contrast and reflection. The decoration features three male heads within wreaths and floral scrollwork. The curfew is expressive of a long tradition of embossed brasswork in the Netherlands and similar decotation can also be found on brass buffet dishes and warming pan lids. Surviving curfews are rare.

Physical description

Curfew, or fire-guard, of brass, embossed and punched with bold ornament of three male heads within laurel wreaths, two facing to ther left and one to the right, flanked by floral scroll-work including sunflowers and acanthus. The borders are composed of bands of acanthus leaf pattern rivetted to the main body of the curfew. Two holes in the surface at the top of the acanthus leaves between the heads may be deliberate ventilation holes as they are very regular in form, whereas other holes in the surface appear to the the result of wear and tear on embossed areas of the brass that have stretched the metal too thinly. The handle was made from a strip of brass embossed with small domes, its sides folded over to reinforce them, and has been bent at each end and rivetted to the top of the curfew.

Place of Origin

Netherlands (made)

Date

17th century (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Brass, repoussé (embossed), chased, punched, folded and rivetted.

Dimensions

Width: 60.7 cm Across widest point at back of object, Height: 39.5 cm From base to top of handle, Depth: 30.5 cm From centre of front to centre of back

Object history note

A curfew is a metal cover designed to enclose the embers of a fire at the end of the day. To have a fire burning all night was both extravagant and dangerous. The curfew, from the French couvre-feu (fire cover) enabled the embers to be kept smouldering at night so that the fire could be re-lit easily the following morning with a puff of the bellows. Some curfews had ventiliation holes to allow small amounts of air to enter so that the fire was not completely starved of oxygen.

The fireplaces was the focal point of the room. It was not only the primary source of heat but also of light after the sun had set. Fireplace furniture, including firedogs, curfews, and firetools, was often produced in brass to take advantage of its highly reflective qualities.

Curfews were usually made in sheet brass or copper. This example is a fine quality example that would have furnished a wealthy middle class home. It is decorated in repoussé, a type of embossed decoration on metal, which is hammered from the back to create a design in relief. This fireguard has a mixture of embossed and engraved decoration to create areas of high contrast and reflection. The decoration features three male heads within wreaths and floral scrollwork. The curfew is expressive of a long tradition of embossed brasswork in the Netherlands and similar decotation can also be found on brass buffet dishes and warming pan lids. Surviving curfews are rare.

Contemporary depictions of curfews at or near the fireplace are extremely rare, suggesting they may have been kept out of the room when not in use. One example of a Dutch interior showing the family of a wealthy burgher in a bedchamber shows the curfew in the fireplace with a linen cloth draped over it for insulation, from which it may be inferred that the painting shows an early morning scene before the fire had been raked and re-stoked. (Musée d'Art et d'Histoire, Geneva: see Peter Thornton, <u>Authentic Decor: The Domestic Interior 1620-1920</u>, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 1984, p. 27, cat. 16). The bright curfew draws the viewer's eye into the painting and its presence emphasises the vulnerability of the expensive carpets and hangings decorating the bed, mantelpiece and table.

The Museum bought the curfew from the Hailstone Collection in 1891 for £16.

Descriptive line

Curfew or fire-guard, in brass decorated in repoussé with three male heads within wreaths, The Netherlands, ca. 1685, Maker unknown

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Turner, Eric An Introduction to Brass, London, HMSO, 1982, pp. 32-3 ill. ISBN 0112903762
Rupert Gentle and Rachael Feild, Domestic Metalwork 1640-1820, Antique Collectors Club, 1998, p. 329, ill.
Rupert Gentle and Rachael Feild, English Domestic Brass 1680-1810 and the History of its Origins, Paul Elek, London, 1975, p. 147, ill. fig. 138
Peter Thornton, Authentic Decor: The Domestic Interior 1620-1920, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 1984, p. 27, cat. 16

Labels and date

Curfew
About 1685

The fireplace was the focal point of a room. It was the primary source of heat and also helped to light rooms after the sun had set. Curfews were used to cover the embers of a fire at the end of the day to keep them smouldering overnight. This enabled the servant or housewife to rekindle the fire easily the following morning with a puff of the bellows.

Dutch Republic, now the Netherlands

Brass [09.12.2015]

Materials

Brass

Techniques

Repousse; Embossing; Punching; Rivetting; Chasing

Subjects depicted

Scroll-work; Acanthus; Busts; Wreath

Categories

Metalwork

Collection

Metalwork Collection

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