| With a major change from the stark clean lines and recessed lighting of the 1990's, chandeliers are again returning to prominence as a choice of lighting in modern homes.
New generations of home renovators and builders who had once turned away from their elders are now rediscoverring this form of lighting as a status symbol and essential piece of decoration in todays modern interiors.
Chandeliers have long been made from a variety of materials, brass, silver, wood, and porcelain but it is only in the last 300 years that they have been made from glass .
Previous to this, glass had been too brittle and the early forms of chandeliers were made of more reliable materials and had been used mainly in churches as devotional figures. These pieces usually took the form of a central religious figure, more often than not a saint, holding a number of candles and were usually for the purposes of devotion rather than for lighting.
It is thought that in the mid to late 18th century as the manufacturers of glass began to experiment more with wider markets and less conventional ideas, that the first glass chandeliers as we know them today were produced. Initially these were very basic, a central steel rod atached to a disc from which emenated a number of scrolled glass arms culminating in a small bowl known as a wax pan and from which would stand a candle. The central disc was usually hidden by a bowl of glass and from this a ball would often be dropped to act as a weight.
The waxpan has several uses. Not only was it handy to catch the drops of wax from the candles but it was also used as a container of rosewater or other fragrant water. As the mixture was finely heated by the light source a fragrance was released into the room.
As glass became stronger through more advanced kilning techniques more and more decoration was added to the central urn and arms, pieces of glass were "dropped" from the light structure , and shallow cuts were made to the edges of the pieces which now varied in size and shape to "bounce" light into the room. As the manufacturers strived more and more to outdo each other in the production and design, these structures became larger and more elaborate.
A process of adding lead to the glass recipe had been perfected in 1674 by George Ravenscroft had added strength and clarity to glass and enabled the edges to be cut more regulary and the amount of light refracted from the pieces more efficient. The clarity of the new glass bought about the term "crystal" in reference to the mineral Rock Crystal which had previously been used in very expensive Chandeliers to give a similar effect.. Each piece of rock had been hand cut and hand polished, as was the new simulated crystal, but the latter was much more economic in time and cost to produce.
As chandeliers became bigger and more elaborate, the size of the counterweight at the bottom of the frame increased as well. The main reason for this was to help the chandelier maintain an even keel and ensure its safety in the draughty palaces and public buildings in which they were now hung. Side lights or sconces, along with candleabra made an appearance. Although few examples exist today as they were more moveable and therefore more fragile. Their practicality was far better as the light at table height gave off far more brilliance than those slung from far above the heads of visitors.
The design of Chandeliers followed along the fashionable trends of the era. The central rod became decorated with a glass urn such as in the Adams influenced period where doves cherubs and double headed eagles were intergrated into the design.
Scroll arms began giving way to candles mounted on brass rings at the base of the light. These finished off long chains of glass buttons and surmounted a basket which closed underneath the ring. An alternative to this basket in a style favoured at this time (around 1800) were long fingers of glass dropped from a number of rings in ever decreasing sizes called skirts. Originally plain, these fingers of glass were later cut in particular syles which changed during the regency period through to the Victorian and later, in the Edwardian back to the cleaner undecorated lines of the previous Regency period.
The once simple light source now gave way to massive structures of a solid mass of "crystal". Practicality was rarely considered and the structure and supports of the light were now completely hidden by glass. These vast fixtures were often raised and lowered on pulleys which helped ease the lighting of the lamps and the cleaning of the glass.
When gas was introduced around 1835, candles gave way to a new form of energy. A return was made to the traditional scroll arms because of the convenience of running gas pipes along or through the arms and out through the existing waxpans.
It was the further introduction of electricity that helped bring these magnificient sources of elegence and grace to the common man. Wiring was simply taped to the arms of old chandeliers, gas, or candle and because of the flexibility and size of the wire, the basket lights which had candles hidden beneath great wreaths of glass chains returned to prominence with small changes to the original design. Bulbs now proliferated the interior and exterior of the structure. In addition to the ease and cost of the fuel, modern glass making techniques bought about by the industrial revolution, changed from the old high lead content glass, handcut and polished to a new technique of moulded glass, lower in lead content and already shaped to appear cut and polished.
The comparitively low cost of this method bought about smaller parlour size chandeliers, and before long, most houses of any standing were lit by such lights. Into the 1900s the styles and evolution of the light was now complete. Only minor details now are changed and most modern lights today are only variations of antique designs.
Quality is the main change effecting chandeliers and although it is possible now to obtain smaller inexpensive lights for only a few hundred dollars, quality as always dictates the price .and the fine quality lights with glass high in lead content are still as expensive in comparison as they once were.
Glass is a product of its environment and to be truly appreciated should be placed in a room with careful planning. If placed for instance close to the reach of the suns rays though a door, window or lightwell, the light refraction during the day can create a most interesting effect on walls and ceilings. In addition the colours surrounding the light will also play their part in the reflections made in the drops, strong bold colours work best, shades of red green and yellow.
It has been suggested that chandeliers are one of the few antiques that have actually been improved by modern times. The original designers would now be amazed by the effect that electricity has made to their lights. With plain clear bulbs, the light refraction is much higher than the original lights, lit by candle or even flickering gas.
As with all good qulaity glass, they should be washed at least once a year . The placement of the pieces in machines such as dishwashers is strictly taboo and cleaning is a job best left to teh professional.
No matter what the current trends may be, with the proper maintenance and care chandeliers will continue to survive and give their owners and future generations a reminder of a time when quality and elegance reigned supreme.