A Victorian mantel is a wooden or marble fireplace created during the long reign of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom, a period stretching from 1837-1901. Authentic Victorian mantels are found at museums, in homes, and occasionally in antique stores or at auctions, and may be very expensive. Replica Victorian mantels are standard design models at many modern furniture companies, and may be made out of similar materials and using similar design influences as authentic versions.
The exact definition of a Victorian mantel is difficult to pin down, since the era of authentic design covers one of the most rapidly-evolving periods in human history. The term may refer to any mantelpiece built in the British Isles during the more than 60 years of Queen Victoria's reign, which may include examples of both extremely detailed craftsmanship and the first mass-produced designs. The term can also apply to American-built mantels of the same era, though these may have very distinct design influences and materials. Modern reproductions tend to focus on several details, such as carvings and material choice, to create the styles known as “Victorian.”
For most of the Victorian era, fireplace served as a home's primary source of heat, and often light. Fireplace mantels, therefore, were not only artistic centerpieces, but a critical part of one of the most important features of a home. As such, a Victorian mantel was often sturdily constructed out of heavy woods, such as oak, or fire-resistant materials, such as marble. Victorian mantels also frequently incorporate at least one wide shelf, or a series of tiered shelves, for the display of ornaments and decor. Most reproductions are based on designs favored by the wealthier classes of the United Kingdom, since poorer groups could generally not afford the expense of an elaborate mantel.
In addition to materials, a Victorian mantel is often distinct in its carefully crafted decorations. Carving and fluting are common, with flower-shaped carvings and patterns generally favored. Overall, the mantels tend to give an impression of sturdiness despite the decoration, an image well in line with the social philosophies of the Victorian era.
The fireplace and accoutrements attending a Victorian mantel may help complete an authentic Victorian aesthetic. Gas fireplaces, a marvel during Victoria's reign, are often paired with replica mantels for a traditional work. The use of delicate cast-iron fire screens, another new invention of the time, is also quite common. Thanks to Charles Dickens, Victorian-era England is often synonymous with the popularization of modern Christmas traditions, so a Victorian mantel can look particularly fetching when bedecked with holly and hanging stockings.