Last Updated: Oct 26, 2023     Views: 48

Glass chandelier with 12 arms
Image: Chandelier with 12 arms made about 1760-1765 in England. CMoG 2012.2.8.

Overview

Chandelier makers have long relied upon glass to construct elegant, sparkling lighting. Yet, prior to the 18th century, chandeliers were mostly made from metals like iron, silver, or bronze. Rock crystal (clear quartz) was also incorporated as it can, like glass, be cut and polished to sparkle when lit. 

Beginning sometime in the late 17th and early 18th century companies began to use glass to create the prismatic effects of rock crystal without the expense. English glassmaker George Ravenscroft in had patented developed a leaded glass formula that produced an exceptionally clear and brilliant glass, chandelier-makers took advantage of the new possibilities Ravenscroft's invention afforded them to create elaborate, sparkling lighting using glass.

Makers

Glass chandeliers were made in many areas during the 18th century, including France, Bohemia, Venice, and England. Some of the more prominent English chandelier makers were Whitefriars, Maydwell and Windle, Jonathan Collet, and Colebron Hancock. Trade cards and advertisements, as well as local building records and personal papers, provide some information about lighting from this period, when the objects themselves have not survived.

Lighting Drama

In 1769, John Wood the Younger began designing a new public venue for aristocrats staying in Bath, England. The society elite who gathered in Bath to socialize with one another required spaces for dances, card games, and other activities. As part of the design of these Assembly Rooms, Wood commissioned William Parker, a  well-known chandelier maker, to create several hanging light fixtures for the building.

Parker's lights, along with others designed by glassmaker Jonathon Collet, were installed in the elegant rooms. Unfortunately for Collet, his five chandeliers for the Ball Room quickly experienced "technical difficulties." Shortly after installation, several of the large glass arms fell off, one of them famously just missing painter Thomas Gainsborough, who was a resident of Bath. According to a letter from John Palmer describing the incident, Palmer and Gainsborough were "standing under one of the chandeliers...[and] narrowly escaped having our crowns cracked by a branch falling out of one of the chandeliers." The next day, a notice was placed in the Bath Chronicle that Collet's chandeliers were being removed and replaced with more reliable fixtures. The replacements were made by Parker whose three large chandeliers in the Tea Room had apparently held together a bit better.

If you visit the historic Bath Assembly Rooms today, you can see still Parker's elaborate fixtures, now lit by electricity, rather than candles. The chandeliers were taken down and stored at the start of World War II, a happy decision as it turns out, since the Assembly Rooms were damaged in air raids in 1942.

 

Books & Articles

 

Fiore, Jan. “Chandeliers: Jewelry of Architecture.” New England Antiques Journal 38, no. 4 (2014), 28-31.

Hilliard, Elizabeth. Chandeliers. London: Mitchell Beazley, 2001; Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 2001.

Maxwell, Christopher et al. In Sparkling Company : Reflections on Glass in the 18th-Century British World  Corning, New York: The Corning Museum of Glass, 2020.

McCaffety, Kerri. The Chandelier through the Centuries: A History of Great European Styles. 1st ed. New Orleans, LA: Published for Savoy House by Vissi d’Arte Books, 2006.

Mortimer, Martin. "Chandeliers at Bath." Journal of the Glass Association 2 (1987): 1-10.

Mortimer, Martin. The English Glass Chandelier. Woodbridge: Antique Collectors' Club, 2000.

Perrett, J. Bernard. "The Eighteenth-century Chandeliers at Bath." Connoisseur (July-Dec. 1938): 187-92.

Rath, Peter, and Josef Holey. Furniture in the Air: The Crystal Chandelier in Europe. Weitra: Bibliothek der Provinz, 2020.

Smith, John P. The Art of Enlightenment: A History of Glass Chandelier Manufacture and Design. London: Mallett, 1994.

Theuerkauff-Liederwald, Anna-Elisebeth. “Lampadari veneziani del XVIII secolo = Venetian Chandeliers of [the] XVIII Century.” Vetro  4, no. 12  (July-Sept 2001): 43-47.

Borrowing Library Materials

If you wish to borrow copies of library items, please contact your local library. The Rakow Research Library will lend designated books from its collection and will send copies of articles requested by other libraries. Your library can request items through the OCLC WorldShare Interlibrary Loan (ILL) system or by direct request through email at ill@cmog.org. For more information, please see our ILL policies and procedures.

Visiting the Rakow

You are welcome to visit the Rakow Research Library and use our collections to research Steuben. Read our Library policies and contact us if you have questions or need help planning your visit.

Please do not hesitate to contact us with your glass-related questions in the future!

 

 

Ask a Glass Question

Ask a Glass Question
Provide Your Contact Information
Fields marked with * are required.