Known also as masonry heaters (made of brick), tile stoves (made preponderantly of ceramics) appeared in the German speaking lands as early as the thirteenth century. In contrast to metal, which cools as easily as it heats, ceramics retains the warmth hours after heating. Hence, this type of stoves had from the very beginning a utilitarian as well as an aesthetic function. Some of its clay added parts were used for cooking, sleeping or drying laundry, as we know from many literary references. In more wealthy environments however, the stoves came to be praised as well for their decorative or symbolic purposes.
In the next centuries, the town halls, the patrician families` villas, the public libraries started to be populated by impressive tile stoves featuring ambitious design (usually emulating the fashionable artistic style of the day like gothic, baroque and rococo) and attractive materials (majolica). In other words, they fulfilled a function of representation, namely of the social status of the inhabitants of the private residences, or of the ideological message embodied in the public institution where the stoves happened to be; it is then no wonder that many of the surviving tile stoves bear traces of the identity of those who once were the owners (coat of arms, mythological representations, scenes of daily life, allegories, reproductions of the political leaders like the Emperor Franz Jozef and the Empress Elisabeth, etc.).

In the medieval time, the so-called fire chamber of the stove (the actual place of the stove where the wood pieces were burning exhaling the heat to the upper part, `the heating chamber`) did not have doors where to stuff the wood in the stove; instead, the stove was fuelled with wood through a hole that was constructed in a communicating part of the stove, usually built in other room [for information related to tile stoves of medieval Central Europe see the PhD dissertation, Religious Representations on Stove Tiles from the Medieval Kingdom of Hungary, CEU, 2009; the text is available here  [accessed 12th August 2016], and introductory info on pp. 15-20]. Later on, as the design features developed to comprise roles exposed above, the metal doors ornaments gained an important part in the overall architecture. Consonant with the style of the stove, the metal doors could be met in a wide range of models and patterns, as dictated by the creativity of the smithery workshop. Even the functionalist stoves of the interwar period, built for those villas that preferred wood to electrical heating, displayed stylized classic and Art Nouveau motifs.

The countries with harsh climates (we need to include here Scandinavia) exported the tile stoves to other parts like Mediterranean areas or France. Moreover, the German speaking lands merchants and emigrants brought this type of stoves in cities of the Hanseatic League but also in other coastal towns like those of England. We have to say that in medieval and early modern England, the fire places were popular, probably, mainly due to the fact that the latter were less expensive to be built, and the costs of their maintenance were less high.

The photo materials we show below render a tile stove located in the town hall of the Silesian town Wrocław, Poland (Breslau, in German, it was an important hub of trade for medieval and early modern Central Europe) (currently, the town hall hosts the museum of the city`s history).

A medieval tile stove, lavishly decorated with floral and animal motifs, in the collection of Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

Three models of fire places (one of which is decorated with Delft ceramics) located in a typical merchant household from the Tudor age in Southampton, UK (currently the house hosts the Tudor House and Garden Museum).

An eclectic style stove in a nineteenth century neoclassical Moldavian manor[1] belonging to the family of 1848 revolutionary and politician of democrat inspiration Mihail Kogălniceanu (currently, the manor hosts the memorial house dedicated to the figure of Mihail Kogălniceanu, in Jassy, Romania).

Three different models of tile stoves (one displaying fin-de-siècle floral elements, and the other two, early modern imagery of medieval inspiration like burgers and city coat of arms-the stove with colorful tiles of different dimensions seems to be dated seventeenth century, and it originates in the Moravian lands); the stoves were brought from Vienna by the owner of the house, Vasile Pogor. V. Pogor, of a family of Moldavian landowners, was the proprietor of a neoclassical style manor, the first electrified house of Jassy in the nineteenth century. To be sure, the intellectual fame of the house overshadowed its architectural and design mastery, as this was the meeting place of arguably the most important intellectual group of modern Romanian culture of the second half of the nineteenth century, the so-called circle of Junimea, a cluster of writers, artists and politicians, like Pogor himself, disseminators of German ideas in Romanian realm. (Today, the Pogor House, as it is known, hosts the Museum of Romanian Literature in Jassy).

A tile stove of modernist/fin-de-siècle inspiration in the turn of the century house of the Polish industrialist of German origin, Adolf Witt; (we do not know however if the stove belongs to the house originally, or it was added later). The villa, located on Emilia Plater street at no. 9/11, is one of the oldest in Warsaw as it survived the massive destructions inflicted on the city by events of the WWII. Built in 1907, the house was located within the premises of a copper and other metals foundry (the beautiful red brick building, typical of the English style factories, can still be seen behind the villa). (Today, the house hosts a hostel, called Witt; the traveler can read about the interesting story of the Witt family in a sort of ad-hoc exhibition within the hostel).

Four tile stoves of sober appearance, where the main attraction points are the metal ornaments, are located in a villa that belonged to the not-so- known poet Mihai Codreanu (1876-1957). Built in Jassy in 1934 in traditional Romanian village style combined with Moorish and Art Nouveau influences, the villa, officially known today as `Sonnet Villa` represents a precious collection of furniture, carpets, musical instruments, fine pottery, paintings, and other artifacts that surrounded the said poet in his last years of life.  The premise is incredibly well kept, the entire household basically surviving untouched. (Today, the villa hosts the memorial house Mihai Codreanu and it belongs to the Museum of Literature, Jassy).

Useful links:

[1] This architectural style was preferred by the local aristocracy, partly due to their political ambitions. Before the 1859 union of Moldavia with Wallachia, Jassy was capital of the province; afterwards, some landowning families did not come to terms with the new circumstances, and kept alive their interest to rule over the young Romanian state, being in competition with the King of the Hohenzollern dynasty. The neoclassical style was closer to the profile of the political ruler in terms of display of symbols of `worldly power` (financial, military).

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