A brief history of the chandelier

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Katerina Bulovska
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Throughout the centuries, the chandelier has gained a reputation as probably the most popular decorative object. Since its beginnings, it was a symbol of triumph and social standing. The name itself was a synonym for luxury, power, and class.

The word ‘chandelier’ originates from the French word ‘chandelle’ meaning candle. The earliest chandeliers were of simple design: two wooden beams forming a cross, with spikes at the end to retain candles made of animal fat.

It was the expense of good quality candles made chandeliers exclusive luxury items from their conception. They were first used in Europe at the end of the 9th century by the Church and soon afterwards in castles and royal palaces.

Illustration of a medieval chandelier

The designs and materials used developed as production techniques improved with time. By the 15th century, complex gold gilded chandeliers had become an essential element in residences of the wealthy nobility.

Chandeliers first appeared in homes of the working-classes during the 16th and 17th century. While the common households used wood, wrought iron, or tin to fashion their chandeliers, even more expensive and elaborate chandeliers made from rock crystal – a transparent form of quartz – were created during this period that only few could afford. Also, the first crystal chandelier appeared, hung from a gilt silver metal structure.

An antique chandelier with candles in Amsterdam’s Portuguese Synagogue. Author: Massimo Catarinella CC BY 3.0

In the 18th century, the evolution of the chandelier continued. Some of the most exclusive were the ones made from Venetian Murano glass. Developments in glass manufacturing meant that lead crystal was able to be produced relatively cheaply, leading to the expansion in populatity of the crystal chandelier.

Lead crystal was more brilliant and transparent and more easily shaped, since it was softer than Venetian glass. Impressive all-crystal chandeliers with magnificent forms started to appear announcing the golden age of the chandelier. This is the period when innovator Daniel Swarovski started producing cut stones for ornate crystal chandeliers.

Early 19th-century French cut-glass and ormolu chandelier in the Green Room of the White House

 

A chandelier in Sayyidah Ruqayya Mosque, Damascus, Syria. Author: Bernard Gagnon CC BY 3.0

In the 19th century, people started using gas as their primary form of artificial light, which encouraged the inventors to create the gasoliers. Many chandeliers were converted to burn gas instead of candles, greatly reducing the number of house fires since the flame was now encased in glass.  Also, there was no longer need to replace the candles.

Underside of a chandelier, Valencia town hall. Author: Joanbanjo CC BY 3.0

With the invention of electricity, chandeliers were once more updated and electric chandeliers became standard. Although the introduction of gas and electricity have devalued the chandelier’s appeal as a status symbol, modern chandeliers are still a must-have for the rich and famous. Modern designers have taken this art to a whole new dimension, creating chandeliers for every home and, seemingly, every decor theme imaginable.

A five-tier wedding cake chandelier with a crystal top

According to the Guinness World Records, the largest chandelier named ‘Reflective Flow’ weighs 18,000 kg and consists of 165,000 LED units. It measures 19 ft in height at the tallest point of its body, 41 ft in linear width and 126 ft 4 inches in linear length. The chandelier was measured in the Ali Bin Khalifa Al Hitmi & Co building in Doha, Qatar in 2010 where it is installed.

One of the largest chandeliers in the world ever produced for the Al Ameen Mosque in Muscat (Oman) shortly before delivery. Author: Kny Design CC BY-SA 4.0

Chandeliers today are just as popular as they were centuries ago. However, they have become more affordable to the general public and can be found in a variety of homes and in different styles. This lightning form has survived the test of time and today it is the perfect finishing touch for every home.