Chandeliers in the Seventeenth
and Eighteenth Centuries
By Helen Costantino Fioratti
In England, King Charles owned a rock crystal chandelier light he considered so precious that he ordered a protective case of taffeta with ribbons for it in 1667.
In the same year, Tsar Alexander of Russia (r. 1645-1676) was given a Dutch chandelier of crystal glass of three tiers, which was much admired and described in detail.
The Paris Mercure of July 1678 described a reception in Caen given by Madame de Matignon for the grand duchess of Tuscany: "To mark the sumptuous quality of the occasion, the buffet was decorated with a quantity of basins, chandeliers, candelabra, and vases of vermeil." The same year, a “fête gallant” given by Monsieur de Verduron, Vintner General of Montpellier, for Madame de Portalés, the Mercure mentioned “twelve crystal chandeliers “lustre” which illuminated a room.” (Fig. 29)
The Galerie de Jeu at Versailles in 1682 was illuminated at either end by two “lustres” with eight branches each. A Paris ball in 1682 to celebrate King Louis XIV and his Queen was described as having a multitude of chandeliers of glass rather than rock crystal, crystal glass being highly prized. Another ball given in 1700 by the Duchesse de Bourgogne in Paris was illuminated, it was said, by "magnificent torchère on which stood “girandole,” (Fig. 30) besides the splendid “lustres” suspended from the ceiling." Chandeliers became evermore outstanding and considered great luxuries, being singled out in descriptions of the fêtes, or receptions.
The source of light, wax candles has a history in itself. White ones of refined wax were much desired, but were expensive. The cheaper tallow, were odorous and quickly consumed. Micheal de Montaigne, in his essays of 1580 wrote “Le jeu ne vaut pas la chandelle" (or "the game is not worth the candle"), a saying that has lasted through the centuries (one similar also attributed to Abraham Cowley in 1664). These references to candles were due to their great cost. Samuel Pepys experimented with beeswax candles in his office at the Admiralty in London to compare their cost with those made of tallow. He surely preferred them, however burdensome the price.
The "magical" effect of candles reflected in mirror (Fig. 31) was the "equivalent to the light from twelve candles with only two to four candles used." This observation was given by Nicodemus Tessin (1696-1753) to Countess Piper in Stockholm, to whom he described the latest in French styles. Tessin also reported that at a ball given at the Galerie des Glaces at Versailles there were seven thousand candles, truly conspicuous consumption! (Fig. 32)
As the height of luxury, Louis XIV gave his mistress, Madame La Valliére, a rock crystal chandelier valued at two-thousand "livres." Twelve, large, rock crystal chandeliers were also given as a diplomatic gift by the same monarch to the King of Siam's ambassador, as mentioned in the Mercure. A rock crystal chandelier was in the throne room at Fontainebleau. Bought by Louis XV, it is now with the Mobilier National. It was then estimated at 50,000 francs but thought to be worth more.