The history of chandeliers provides an interesting account into the various approaches to design. Having traditionally been hung in important spaces like theaters, libraries, museums, cathedrals and other meaningful locations, chandeliers are a focal point of a room.
Below is a brief history of chandeliers, dating back to the Medieval and Middle Ages up to present day.
Chandeliers in Medieval & Middle Ages
Chandeliers in this time period were constructed without the benefit of electricity. Instead, they were designed with candle holders and drip pans to catch the melted wax.
Early construction was fairly practical, consisting of two crossed wooden planks inset with notched grooves to hold the flames. However, as time passed, so too did the approach to building. Forged from iron and shaped into curving arms, chandeliers evolved into hanging candelabras. By the 16th century, chandeliers were well on their way to becoming more decorative and ornamental, serving as symbols of wealth.
Early American Chandeliers
As practical solutions for overhead light, early American pioneers created chandeliers from common materials like wood, iron and softer metals. Also characteristic of this time were Flemish brass chandeliers. These were made in Europe and shipped to the colonies, finding a place in an average home. Flemish chandeliers are still popular today.
17th-Century European Chandeliers
Chandeliers constructed of iron, wood and brass chandeliers led to a time where Italians and Murano glass spearheaded innovation. Venetian Murano is a clear bubble-free glass which could be colored and shaped in new ways. Made by hand and adorned with colorful flowers, leaves and embellishments, these designs were meant to hang in the most important of places.
Regency & Victorian Chandeliers
England’s Regency and Victorian marked periods of highly decorative chandeliers that resembled upside-down wedding cakes. The designs were crafted to crown the ballrooms of high-society events like debutante dances and weddings. These chandeliers were built from tiered rings of crystals and faceted glass that resembled upside-wedding cakes.
During this time, the French also introduced a new (and very popular) chandelier style (called “montgolfiére”) which resembles a hot air balloon.
Also happening during this time was the introduction of gas lights, a very important innovation in the 17 and 18th centuries. As the 19th century wound down, both gas and electric lights were being used in chandeliers, further increasing their brightness and intensity.
20th Century Advancements
The first all-electric chandelier was manufactured by Austrian company J. & L. Lobmeyr. In fact, they worked with Thomas Edison when making! This advancement brought with it a new era in overhead lighting.
Bauhaus-styled chandeliers — ovals, baguettes, half-moons, and drums — along with an emphasis of glamour and elegance redefined what a chandelier could look like up through the 1930s.
Mid-Century Modern Designs
Mid-century chandeliers were often made using hybrid techniques. These designs welcomed the fusion of metal, glass and plastic for the first time. They are actually some of the most valuable collectibles today
Shopping for a chandelier today brings with it a seemingly endless supply of choices. As both manufacturing and lighting technologies advance, so to do the shapes and styles that are able to be installed.
When looking for the perfect chandelier for your space, be sure to factor in the needs, style and setting. Are you trying to make a statement? Are you actually using for overhead light? Do you want to control from your phone? All of these questions will help you choose the chandelier that best fits your overall design.