1.12.2011

History of Chandeliers

Chandeliers are classic lamps that have been around us for long, long time, so I thought it would be interesting to know a bit about its history as the ethimological meaning and the definition from Wikipedia I gave in the previous post were not enough, at least for describing many chandeliers.

The first “chandelier” or thing resembling to one was called “the polycandelon”. According to designboom, it used several glass bowls/cones in a bronze/iron frame.

The earliest chandelier, around the 15th century, were a cross-shaped “frame” made with two beams of wood with a candle at the end of each. These candles, unlikely the ones we use nowadays made of wax, were made of animal fat. They were hung to the desired height with a rope or chain suspended from a hook. At the beginning, these were used to light up big places of reunion, like medieval churches, abbeys and monasteries.

Afterwards, chandeliers evolved and their designs began to chance, becoming part of wealthy homes as a status symbol. They were usually hung in the middle of the houses of wealthy merchants, palaces and mansions. Lighting after daytime was really expensive, so just the wealthy families could afford having a lighting fixture, specially a fancy one. With a form based on rings or crowns, it was a kind of “jewelry for home”.

It is also believed that more modest household could have more modest chandeliers if they had access to raw materials for candle making, and some wood, metal, iron, or tin.

Well, design, as life, continued evolving, and suddenly, around the end of the 16th century, other materials began to be added, like mirrors, shining brass plates, and light breaking rock crystals or quarts, which by the way were not easy to cut. This were used in the candle holders, hanging from the base of the chandeliers, so light could pass through them to the room, changing it a bit, with an amazing effect.

These rocks were rare, hard to cut, and very expensive, not to mention, irregular in shape. So pressed glass began to be used, but it was not so good because of its refraction qualities. It was also hard to cut and could not acquired the shapes the rock crystal had.

Designers wouldn’t stop until they could find a material or a way to design with this beautiful effect, so they kept trying and trying until 1676. In this year, an English glassmaker named Geroge Ravenscroft, developed a new kind of glass that was a bit like the rock crystal. He added lead oxide to the glass while making it, and suddenly (well, after several experiments in fact), the material became softer and very refractive, even more than rock crystal. It’s fun if you consider this was known in Mesopotamia in ancient times, but just discovered by the “modern world”.

According to Jutta-Arnette Page, curator of the European Collection at the Corning Museum of Glass at New York, its highest moment was this. Ravenscroft gave a sparkle to crystal with this invention and a real crucial moment to chandelier design.

Changes didn’t stop in there. Around the 1700, beautiful mouth-blown glass chandeliers were made on the Venetian island of Murano. They had been making fine glassware since the 13th century, but it was not until the 18th they began making chandeliers. Nowadays they keep on making them and exporting them.

In 1724, in what was Bohemia then and now the Czech Republic, a glasscutter named Josef Palme had royal permission for making chandeliers in Prachen, at the north, starting the Bohemian chandeliers that can be found all around the world.

But there are some crystals that a really like, as jewelry specially, and that can also be found on chandeliers: Swarovsky crystals. In 1895 Daniel Swarovsky and his brother-in.law Franz Weis set up a factory near Innsbruck, Austria. In this small workshop, Swarovsky patented a machine for cutting extremely well jewelry stones, and afterwards, he thought, oh, well… why not trying this for cutting crystal? So he began cutting crystal chandelier pieces, and with this, the purity of leaded glass crystal was flawlessly brilliant.

Not just materials changed, but design. Give a child new pieces for the game, and new toys, and stories will be created. So yes, design changed along with the new materials, and fashion of the time. It’s amazing that no other lamp has shown so many different designs and exaggerations.

Luckily, not only the extremely wealthy could buy chandeliers. They became accessible for middle class, in other materials and designs. The designs continued evolving with fashion, giving us chandeliers of so many different styles such as art nouveau, art deco, and others, like Rococo, which in the 1750’s influenced the design a lot with crystals for a bit of sparkle. In 1765 Robert Adam made them longer, and the arms of the chandeliers instead of having some crystals were adorned with chains of them, as the production of lead crystal became cheaper at the time,and the candle sockets changed and depending on the time, some bells and flowers were added.

As we can see, the 1700’s was the century where more details were added to chandeliers. The arms were curved in lots of directions. In 1879, Louis Comfort Tiffany made the first stained glass chandelier.

After WWII, design was great, always looking for new forms, so the chandelier was back to life. The names now were not just of manufacturers and those managing crystals, but of designers such as Gino Sarfatti, Achille Castiglione and Ingo Maurer.

As times changed, and new inventions were brought, candles were substituted by gas, and then electricity. In the 19th century, gas was the main source of illumination, and as chandeliers wouldn’t be left behind, so the gasolier was invented: gas+chandelier. But at the end of this century, when the chandeliers were changed to gas, electricity was introduced, and electric chandeliers became the usual. Many people criticized this and designers began creating new models for the new lamps.

As we can see, chandeliers are not a normal lighting fixture. They have been with us since long ago, and will still be with us for much more, evolving with time and bringing us magic and dreams every time we turn them on.

Internet sources:

http://www.worldartglass.com/index.asp?mc=art9

http://www.pressreleasepoint.com/brief-history-chandeliers

http://www.abbeychandeliers.co.uk/crystal_chandeliers_history.html

http://ezinearticles.com/?A-History-of-Chandelier-Pendant-Lighting&id=4034303

http://www.designboom.com/history/p_chandelier.html