History of Crystal Chandeliers

A chandelier is a fixture fixed at the ceiling with two or more arms bearing lights. It was first used in medieval churches and abbeys in order to efficiently illuminate large rooms and halls. During those times, a chandelier usually took the form of a wooden cross that has spikes in order to secure it

From then on, chandeliers took on more elaborate forms. It was not only used for lighting purposes, it took on decorative and aesthetic functions. It was not surprising that chandeliers are found in palaces and home of the rich. Chandeliers, eventually, became a symbol of wealth.

One form of chandeliers is the crystal chandelier. According to Jutta-Arnette Page, curator of the European Collection at the Corning Museum of Glass at New York, it varied and evolved through time but its height came during the development of lead glass in England in the 17th century.

The addition of lead gave old crystal its clarity and sparkle. The effect of lead is its ability to make glass highly refractive. The refraction of glass defines the quality of the chandelier. As was stated by Donna Wilkinson in her article written for Arts & Antiques Magazine, “tiers of flickering candle flames were reflected in the diamond like drops and pendants, every color of the rainbow was dispersed throughout the room.” She even described the experience as reminiscent of Europe’s 18th and 19th century splendor.

The problem of achieving refraction during those times was that rock crystal was rare and very expensive. In addition, cristallo, was very brittle and this poses difficulty in cutting the crystal that could make fraction possible. Attempting to find a substitute, an English glassmaker, George Ravenscroft, developed in 1676 a crystalline glass that would serve as an alternative for rock crystal. He discovered after a series of experimentation that glass becomes soft and easier to cut if lead oxide is added. The ease of cutting made the glass highly refractive and became even more transparent than rock crystal.

Lead glass gave fire and life to glass crystals, according to Jessie McNab, associate curator of decorative arts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. She claims that “when it was used on chandeliers with candles, it was absolutely brilliant.”

The demand for chandeliers increased. Chandeliers became luxury objects and designs soon became even more complex. Chandeliers in the 1750s were greatly influenced by Rococo. Chandeliers bore touches of cut-glass pendants and such ornaments giving it more sparkle. In 1765, the elegant style of Robert Adam made crystal chandeliers longer. The shafts of the chandeliers used Grecian-um designs. Their arms were strung with chains of pendants and their candle sockets and drip pans became very elaborate. Bells or flowers are examples of these drip pans.

The achievement of the “English Crystal” had undergone a lot of experimentation and obstacle. However, the European continent is still hoping that it would soon be able to catch up. Such attempts can be seen in the works of J. & L. Lobmeyer in Vienna and baccarat in France who were able to achieve exceptional lead crystal chandeliers in the 1820s and 1830s. Artisans, today, have not stopped pushing themselves. Their goal to achieve perfection had surely made chandeliers a truly one of a kind art work.