Having appeared in churches and spread to palaces and castles, the form evolved over the centuries from its simple wooden origins into light holders of increasing complexity. Firstly iron and brass chandeliers appeared with crown rings and multiple tiers, to maximise the number of lights. Then as a conjunction of their decorative and practical use, luxurious and costly materials such as silver, gilded wood and bronze began to be favoured.
Polished brass or silver chandeliers with baluster stems and large spherical globes, which appeared in areas around the lower Rhine during the fifteenth century, elegantly reflected candlelight from their polished surfaces and soon became the dominant style for many centuries.
Towards the end of the sixteenth century chandeliers began to be dressed with rock crystal, a transparent form of quartz, to refract and diffuse light and to create a sense of luxurious wonder.
The imitation of rock crystal with glass began in Venice in the fifteenth century. To do this, the glassmakers invented a ‘crystal’ made in reality of glass combined with a mixture of potassium, silicon, manganese and lead oxide heated to between 1200 and 1500 degrees. This was further developed in Bohemia and subsequently in France. A true alternative was developed in 1676 by George Ravenscroft in England with the invention of lead crystal. Easily cut and highly refractive lead crystal was even more transparent than rock crystal and led to a revolution in chandelier production.
The ease of production of lead crystal gave birth to spectacular all-crystal chandeliers. In England firms such as Hancock & Rixon, F. &. C. Osler and Perry & Co produced fantastical chandeliers in cut-glass and crystal of astonishing quality and complexity. These became increasingly refined and ornate, with the development of new geometries and techniques of production. A golden age both in innovation and design in which the chandelier became as today the focal point of interior schemes with designers such as Robert Adam. The transition to gas and later electricity as methods of illumination did not harm the form of the chandelier but added to its evolution allowing for ever more sophisticated and ingenious designs.
In France the skill of its metal workers and gilders resulted in the production of some exceptional chandeliers cast from the finest bronze in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. These designs were often revisited in the nineteenth century and produced to incredible standards alongside innovative new styles. In Europe great advancements in glass making can be seen in the works of companies such as J. & L. Lobmeyer in Vienna and Baccarat in France.
The chandelier may have evolved over the centuries but its importance and prestige remain. The very best examples from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries have become rare and highly sought after, their quality and design having never been surpassed. For period interiors the chandelier remains de rigueur, completing the decorative scheme with a sophisticated and impressive focal point; for modern interiors the addition of an antique chandelier can act as a striking and impressive statement piece.
Finding the Right Chandelier
As a focal point, choosing the right chandelier can be a make or break moment for any interior design and there are a number of factors to consider, including the size of the room, height of the ceiling, the design of the chandelier, and the materials from which it is made.
Proportions are key – while specific dimensions must be considered for purely practical reasons, such as ceiling height and head clearance, it is the feel of the chandelier in the space and how it defines or articulates the void around it that ultimately determines its success. One of the most common mistakes is to install a chandelier that is too small in scale for a room, so that it appears merely as a token nod to grandeur. There is no right or wrong height, or size, it is how it relates to the architecture and decoration of the interior scheme.
For example, simple neo-classical chandeliers can often feel smaller and lighter in their setting than heavier rococo or gothic counterparts of identical dimensions, while minimal and pared down interiors often require more elaborate chandeliers to balance and enhance the space.
As chandeliers of eighteenth and nineteenth century design are still manufactured to this day, it is important to be sure of their authenticity and age. Factors such as the quality of the glass, the weight and quality of the casting and whether the gilding or drops are original to the piece all must be considered. It is therefore important to seek professional advice and to buy chandelier from a dealer who is a member of a recognised trade association such as LAPADA.
By James Graham – Adrian Alan Ltd: www.adrianalan.com
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