ATTRIBUTION: This fireback is one of three such castings found in the upper valley of Virginia, and, since the design has not turned up elsewhere, we attribute the work to the Isaac Zane Marlboro Furnace in that area. The carvers of the pattern may have been Bernard and Jugiez, the same carvers who carved the pattern for the Fairfax fireback (MESDA Acc. No. 2463) for Zane.
DESIGN: Like other decorative arts, ironwork responded to the changes in fashion which punctuate the 18th century. During the first quarter, stove decoration was characterized by German medieval scripture scenes and floral motifs. Mid-century, rococo patterns, also found on Philadelphia Chippendale furniture, became popular, as did the rococo affinity for Chinoiserie. A plate from Locke and Copeland’s New Book of Ornaments served as the inspiration for the ornamental figure.
MAKER: The design was executed by the Marlboro Furnace, of Frederick County, Virginia, founded by Isaac Zane in 1767. His partners, John and Samuel Potts and John Hughes, were experienced ironmasters from Pennsylvania. Zane subsequently bought out his associates and began to make improvements to the works. He constructed a furnace near newly discovered ore beds and operated it until the early 1790s when he retired due to declining health. Raised in a prominent Philadelphia household, Zane maintained cultural and economic ties with that city, commissioning casting patterns from Philadelphia carvers and distributing iron through his brother-in-law and factor, John Pemberton. Survivng castings from Marlboro show remarkable flexibility in Zane’s product marketing since they range from elegant stoveplates and firebacks in the Rococo style to jamb stoves decorated with simple scenes derived from European folklore. By the time Marlboro closed, Zane owned over 35,000 acres of land, the furnace complex, a spacious manor house, and one of the largest libraries in the country. He was a colonel in the Shenandoah militia, a member of the House of Burgesses, and a close friend of Thomas Jefferson.