Chandeliers in the Seventeenth
and Eighteenth Centuries
By Helen Costantino Fioratti
In October 1699, Louis XIV accorded a Monsieur Berrin the order to make chandeliers of glass that imitated rock crystal (described in the Mercure Galant). Monsieur de Argenson, after examining Monsieur Berrin's work, wrote that he was "obligated to recognize that this new manner of melting the crystal to compose chandeliers and girandoles was one of the happiest discoveries of French industry." Moreover, it was surprising to him that the first experiments came so close to perfection! Berrin's product, however, was usually described as Bohemian crystal without his being credited. To complicate matters, already in the seventeenth century, crystal glass, described as “Bohemian,” often came from Venice.
A design for a state bedchamber, published in 1702 by the Huguenot Daniel Marot (1661-1752), the famous architect and designer of furniture and interior decorations, created an individual variety of work in the Louis XIV style. It shows panels with mirrored sconces placed around the room.
Sconces as lighting sources form a subsidiary subject in the study of chandeliers.
Mirror-backed ones with candle arms (often hanging from ribbons) were a constant decorative device, but were hung very high to reflect the light from the chandeliers, especially in Northern Italian interiors. Elegant eighteenth-century rooms were hung with as many mirrors as possible in series, always with the aim of magnifying the light rather than to see one's image reflected. (Fig. 36)
Wall lights from the late 1720s, probably designed by Nicolas Pineau (1684-1754) can be seen in an engraving at the Victoria & Albert Museum, in London. (Fig. 37) Such fixtures were placed closely flanking the mirror over the fireplace to further enhance the light. The French and Italians almost always had sconces set very closely to the looking glasses usually placed over the fireplace. (Fig. 38)
For sconces, the back plates had generally been polished brass or silver. As we have seen, the necessity and desire for more light was the impetus for this feature. Greater reflection was provided by the back plates of mirror, since silver (especially) tarnished easily. (Examples belonging to Cardinal Mazarin were described in 1653). Mirrored backing augmented the candles light further and were used in conjunction with chandeliers. (Fig. 39) Such mirror-backed sconces were an advanced taste, in France in the 1670’s, but by the mid eighteenth century this practical type had become very popular.
Gilt bronze lanterns with glass panels having the candle holders removable from a hook were seen in halls and smaller rooms. (Fig. 40) The painted “tôle” and iron and gilt bronze lanterns with porcelain or “tôle” flowers were fashionable in France and northern Italy. (Fig. 41 & 42)
André Charles Boulle (1642-1732) was a great French cabinet-maker known for his masterly handling of ebony, floral marquetry, brass, pewter, brass, copper, and tortoiseshell inlay work. Boulle worked for Colbert and was given the title of “ébéniste,” “ciselleur” (chaser), gilder, and sculptor to the King. He also made important chandeliers, (Fig. 43) one of which is mentioned in an auction catalogue in 1783 in Paris. There it was described as having eight branches with a "cul-de-lampe" of ball shape, terminating in a spiral. The globe was enriched with a "rug" of fringes and tassels surmounted by a support formed of a thirty inch length rod with a twenty-eight "pouces" diameter. (Fig. 44)
After Boulle, other famous French artisans such as Pierre Gouthière (1740-1806) and Pierre-Phillip Thomire (1751-1843) also created beautiful metal, usually gilt bronze, chandeliers. The famous brothers Slotz and Roue provided a chandelier of silvered bronze with twelve lights (described there as "bôbeches") with palmettes, and with large balls above pyramid vases (with a ball above, suspended by a reversed pyramid).