A Brief History of Chandeliers

A Brief History of Chandeliers

As a crowning statement of elegance, grace and glamour, a chandelier — also known as a “ceiling rose” — sits at the top of the lighting fixture hierarchy, looking down proudly on all entering the room. Throughout history, chandeliers have been hung in important spaces like theaters, libraries, museums, cathedrals and other places where society’s upper crust is likely to show up. In many instances, chandeliers were strictly ornamental, offering no artificial light at all, their shine and sparkle coming only from the glass and metal they were made from. The more practical chandeliers of the Middle Ages and colonial times were called candle beams or hanging candelabras.

Made from iron or wood, they supported sets of candles made from animal tallow, capturing the wax in shallow bowls. The ornamental chandeliers of Europe carried on the idea of overhanging light by setting candles into metal frames fastened to strings of glittering glass and crystal drops. When gas and electric light arrived, chandeliers adapted and adjusted but never lost their impressive shapes and symbolic purpose of making a room more regal. Read on through this timeline to learn more about how the ceiling rose has played a part in world history and carries on today. Note: The pictures included are all modern products made in the image and motifs of their times, but are not actual historical relics.


Medieval & Middle Ages

When Chaucer and Shakespeare were writing their literary masterpieces, it’s possible they sat beneath the chandelier light of medieval times. Since electricity was still a long way off, these first chandeliers were designed with candleholders and drip pans, also known as bobéches, to hold the melted wax. The first chandeliers were practical constructions of two crossed planks of wood inset with carved grooves to hold the flickering flames, but they evolved into much more.

The gothic mansions and castles of Europe glowed with hanging candelabras made of forged iron shaped into curving arms, each one tipped with light. The wealthy owners (or their peasant servants) moved them from room to room as needed. Through the 15th and 16th centuries, chandeliers continued to symbolize wealth and status, becoming more and more decorative and ornamental.

Early American

American pioneers used chandeliers for practical overhead light and their fixtures were made of common materials like wood, forged iron and softer metals such as copper and pewter. The tin chandelier stands out as an example of early American folkcraft — they are usually made of sheet iron, not tin, and are constructed with cones, curving arms, fluted cups, and may feature floral or geometric designs pierced into the shades.

You’ll see similar styles in the “primitive” shops and boutiques around the country. Flemish brass chandeliers, made in Europe and shipped to the colonies, introduced a more stately version of the chandelier into ordinary homes. Usually made from a spindle with curved arms attached, Flemish chandeliers are still popular today.

17th-Century European

Decades of iron, wood and brass chandeliers prefaced an era led by the Italians and Murano glass. Named after its home island in Venice — the clear bubble-free glass could be colored and shaped in new ways and quickly became popular. A typical Venetian Murano chandelier has multiple curved arms adorned with colored garlands, flowers, fruit, leaves and other embellishments.

Made completely by hand, these fanciful masterpieces were designed to hang in theaters, palaces, and other important places. Many of them are still there. The concept of crystal chandeliers took hold throughout the world, with many variations and styles created to hang in the world’s most magnificent landmarks.

Inspired by the Era?

Regency & Victorian

The highly decorative chandeliers of England’s Regency and Victorian periods crowned the ballrooms of high-society events like debutante dances and weddings. Chandeliers were built from tiered rings of crystals and faceted glass that resembled upside-wedding cakes. The French style of montgolfiére, which hides the fixture’s stem inside a “bag” of glass strands and resembles a hot air balloon, became popular and evolved into even more creative and elaborate styles.

Another important development during the 17- and 18th century was the introduction of gas lights. By the end of the 19th century, both gas and electric lights were used in chandeliers, making them brighter than ever before.

20th Century

As the 19th century ended, the world continued its love affair with the stately chandelier. The first all-electric chandelier was manufactured by Austrian company J. & L. Lobmeyr (who worked with American inventor Thomas Edison in making it) heralding a new era in overhead lighting.

In the 1920s, flappers and their dates danced the Charleston under Bauhaus styles — ovals, baguettes, half-moons, and drums — that reshaped notions of what a chandelier could look like. But elegance and glamour carried on as the primary purpose of chandeliers as the Art Deco period of the 1930s pushed them in new directions. Novel ideas, such as shades made from stained glass and pure white milk glass, came about. At the same time, old styles — such as the Flemish chandelier — persisted and evolved.


Mid-Century Modern

The 1950s and 1960s were two of the most exciting decades in American design and chandeliers went along for the ride, taking a sharp turn away from classic ornamentalism. Mid-century chandeliers are some of the most valuable collectibles today and hang in world-famous theaters, museums, and other landmark buildings.

Modern shapes like bubbles, Sputniks, tripods, domes, and starbursts inspired by or manufactured by legendary designers like the Castiglioni Brothers, Serge Mouille, Poul Henningsen and others established the aesthetic of the time and lit the salons of the era’s prominent intellectuals and artists. Chandeliers of the mid-century era were often made from fusions of metal and glass and plastic was put to use for the first time.

Shop the Look

Today’s chandeliers

When shopping for a chandelier today, you have a range of choices that include mid-century, classic, rustic, traditional, modern and pop art. New manufacturing technologies and LED lighting are taking the chandelier in new directions. You’ll see shapes and styles that resemble airplane wings, bacteria, mobiles, flower petals, starbursts, orbs and vessels. Some chandeliers blend various styles together, combining classic crystal drops with the rustic interest of reclaimed wood or a tiered candelabra inside a cage of copper spindles. What’s best about contemporary chandeliers is the ease of installation and the many lighting options. Energy-efficient bulbs can be controlled with remotes or smartphone apps, allowing you to change the hue and intensity of the light.

When shopping for a chandelier, assess your home’s history and current style of decor. Consider a statement piece that will claim attention or a more subtle model that highlights an interesting aspect of the room’s architecture. Measure the amount of natural light coming into the space and choose a model that can illuminate underused or dark areas of the room. Shades are another important consideration — think about how the light and shadows will land and choose accordingly. With chandeliers inspired from all eras of history in our catalog, you can soon stand beneath the shimmering light of a chandelier that makes your home a more beautiful and inviting place.



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