The extraordinary luminary opulence and beauty of the glass and crystal chandelier has a fascinating history, the story of this art form is distinguished by both aesthetic and technical innovation. While early light fixtures were made for the most part from metal and wood before the 17th century, this period saw the emergence of rock crystal decorated chandeliers, introducing the luxuriously ornate and reflective quality of these luminous materials. Natural light and candlelight were suddenly dazzlingly mirrored in these decorative elements, a dance of reflective light.

19th century Venetian Chandelier

Bohemian Splendor for the Nobility and Cut-Glass Chandeliers in the 18th and 19th Centuries

The beautifully ornate Bohemian chandeliers from the 18th-century apartments and palace of Empress Maria Theresa of Austria would also inspire the delicacy and intricate design of chandeliers throughout history, setting the tone for the ornate lighting of noble and royal homes and residences throughout Europe. Such models meant a prizing among patrons of outstanding craftsmanship and an emphasis on the artful balance of crystal, glass and metal elements designed with an eye for a sophisticated, yet airy delicacy.

While the use of glass instead of rock crystal began with Venetian glass in the 15th century, glass chandeliers began to emerge around 1720. Glass was easier to cut and shape than rock crystal, and at first, these forms were simple, however even moulded glass arms did not produce the play of light that was so desired. The innovative use of cut glass became the way to reflect candlelight and sunlight, making chandeliers the centrepieces of opulent interiors. Among the most important British glass cutters, Maydwell and Windell worked in the 18th century and made ornate chandeliers for the wealthy, distinguished by a sense of luminescent refractory design.

By the middle of the 19th century, the introduction of gas lighting meant that many chandeliers were made using metal and glass tubes. In 1883 the first electric chandelier was created by Thomas Edison and J & L Lobmeyr. During this time some chandeliers were refitted for electricity. Highlights of this ornate art form include Queen Victoria’s gift of the Crystal Staircase Chandelier to the Ottoman Empire, Ceremonial Hall, Dolmabahçe Palace, and Istanbul.

The Vision of Versailles

One of the most important and impressive examples of the use of chandeliers is, of course, King Louis XIV’s Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, a sumptuously designed room meant to celebrate the majesty and dominion of France and featuring 43 sumptuously appointed glass chandeliers. The extraordinary admixture of metal, figural and crystal and glass elements in this room would go on to inform the aesthetic of chandelier making throughout Europe well into the early 20th century translating into artistic compositions of cut glass, leaded glass, rock crystal, metal, gilding, porcelain, and tôle.

British Innovation in the 19th Century

The 19th century saw a host of innovative techniques and new design approaches, and in Britain, in particular, there were a number of important glassmakers. John Blades was an esteemed glass maker known for the intricacy of his work. He established a glass business in 1773 and became a glassmaker to King George III. Blades also created a glass tomb for Nabob of Oudh as well as work for the Shah of Persia and collaborated with the architect J.B Papworth.

Another important 19th-century maker of chandeliers was Perry & Co. London. Established by William Parker in the mid-18th century the company made lighting fixtures for Royal palaces and residences distinguished by their complexity of design and ornate geometric form. Perry chandeliers are highly detailed often embellished with cut crystal pendants and featuring traditional step cutting and multiple tiers and solid lead crystal arms.

British company F & C. Osler is arguably seen as the most important 19th-century European company making glass objects, furniture, prisms, and parts for chandleries with much of their early market in India. In 1847 the company was commissioned by the Egyptian general Ibrahim Pasha to create an astonishing 17-foot-tall pair of candelabra for the tomb of Muhammad at Medina. These were the largest lighting fixtures made and astonished the world and led to further commissions for Queen Victoria and for the royal palace of Nepal. Of particular significance, of course, is Osler’s magnificent 27-foot Crystal Fountain the centerpiece of London’s Great Exhibition of 1851, Crystal Palace of 1851, renowned for its technical ingenuity and crystalline beauty. In 1852, Osler would open their own factory in Birmingham and would go on to make lighting for public buildings and the wealthy including gaslighting and kerosene. The Osler’s beautiful 30-foot gas chandelier displayed at the 1855 Paris Exposition is roundly praised as innovative in design purity and boldness of form.

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