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A History of the Chandelier - Part 1

A chandelier is a fancy light fixture that is often ornate and hanging suspended in the middle of a formal space.

Its history spans more than eight hundred years and as time progressed designs became ever more elaborate, reflecting the growing wealth and power of the highest echelons of society, as well as progress in terms of technological development and workmanship. Since its inception, the chandelier has been closely associated with royalty and the aristocracy which perpetuated its status as a symbol of wealth, luxury and grandeur.

This article will focus on the three most prominent European chandelier styles to emerge, which include the French Rock Crystal, English glass and Venetian chandeliers. Whilst each of these had separate origins and followed distinct trajectories, it is important to note that fluidity across both time and space is a defining feature of the chandelier’s stylistic and technological evolution (Mccaffety, 2006). The high costs involved in manufacturing combined with the discerning tastes of its patrons, meant that the chandelier reflected rapidly changes in fashion and technology. In spite of some protectionist efforts, decorative styles circulated widely amongst designers, manufacturers and the ruling elite. Whilst such fluidity can make it challenging to track trends and attribute chandeliers, on the flip side it has contributed to creating a climate of innovation and a plethora of diversity and choice for consumers.

Flemish Chandeliers

The first notable chandelier style to emerge and which was to have a lasting impact was the Dutch brass chandelier. Prior to this, chandeliers had been made of wood or iron, such as the Moorish iron farol from the eight century or the simple yet elegant iron corona which was widespread during the Middle Ages. These were all but superseded by the arrival of the Dutch-style chandelier by the fifteenth century. The defining feature of this chandelier is the central ball stem comprised of a large brass sphere, or series of ascending spheres, which support upward-curving arms. The Flemish town of Dinant, in what is now Belgium, became renowned for its fine brass wear, known as dinanderie. Brass was particularly suited to this design owing to its smooth surfaces which made it especially reflective of candlelight. Flemish chandeliers often incorporated Gothic symbolism, religious figures and stylised floral decoration. Particularly popular was the inclusion of a double-headed eagle emblem atop the chandelier, as in the illustration (Smith, 1994).

France and the Rock Crystal Chandelier

France is unique in Europe in that it did not start producing high quality glass until

the late eighteenth century. Glass was generally not well-regarded when compared to materials such as porcelain, silver or ormolu. Instead, chandelier production was part of the metal working tradition and glass was substituted for rock crystal, a transparent form of quartz. This led to the development of the Rock Crystal chandelier. Whilst this style is most strongly associated with France, and with the palace of Versailles in particular, it spread quickly amongst Europe’s most luxurious residences and came to symbolise the epitome of wealth and grandeur.

This style of chandelier consists of a metal frame decorated with rock crystal pendants, drops and rosettes.

French Baroque

The first chandeliers with rock crystals emerged in the seventeenth century. These were made in the Baroque style which spread across Europe from its birthplace in Florence following the Renaissance. Connections between rulers in Italy and France

abounded during this time, and the arts and fashions of the Italian renaissance exerted a great influence over the French monarchs. Louis XIV (1643-1715), in particular, utilised architecture and the visual arts as a means to exert power and reflect his glory, a vision which resulted in the development of French Baroque, also knownas le style Louis Quartoze. A typical chandelier from this period comprised an open or “birdcage” frame made of gilded bronze, either in a vase shape or in lyre shapes with bouquet tops, and decorated with shining cut rock crystals.

Rococo France

The Rococo style gained popularity during the reign of Louis XV.

Typical chandeliers of this period were made of bronze and contained detailed designs featuring soft curves, irregular swirls and leaf-like motifs. They had sprouted flower candle cup nozzles and were often adorned with cupids, grotesques and garlands.

To be continued.....

Note: Sources from Italian Lighting Centre Ltd.

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