A fireplace mantel is the projecting hood which in medieval times was built over a fireplace to catch the smoke, and at a later date used as decorative framework, often carried up to the ceiling. Fireplace mantel is now the general term for the jambs, mantel shelf, and external accessories of a fireplace. For many centuries, the fireplace mantel was the most ornamental and most artistic feature of a room, but as fireplaces have become smaller, and modern methods of heating have been introduced, its artistic as well as its practical significance has depleted.
In domestic work of the 14th century, the fireplace mantel was greatly increased in order to allow for the members of the family sitting on either side of the fire on the hearth, and in these cases great beams of timber were employed to carry the hood; in such cases the fireplace was so deeply recessed as to become externally an important architectural feature.
The English fireplace mantels of the early 17th century, when the purer Italian style was introduced, were extremely simple in design. Sometimes the fireplace mantel only consisted of the ordinary mantel piece, with classic architraves and shelf, the upper part of the chimney breast being paneled like the rest of the room.