Chandeliers in the Seventeenth
and Eighteenth Centuries
By Helen Costantino Fioratti
Another innovation of the time was the creation of metal supports and curved side branches that were covered with pieces of hollow glass, (Fig. 46) an invention of Giuseppe Briati of Venice (1686–1772). This added more light. Briati decorated his chandeliers with clear or polychrome glass volutes, flowers, or pendants. This type of chandelier, known as a “cioche,” tends to be huge, measuring up to two and a half meters (or of reduced scale). It constituted a popular and long-lasting Venetian style. (Fig. 47)
On the other hand, lanterns and gilt wood chandeliers (Fig. 48) were still much in use during the eighteenth century in most of Italy, France, and the Northern countries. Sicily, for instance, made its own carved and gilded wood chandeliers, many of which featured hanging carved wood tassels. Sicily also imported chandeliers from Venice. Palermo had been badly damaged by earthquakes in 1693, which later induced the nobles to rebuild their palazzi. Great competition ensued to make one's dwellings more luxurious than those of others. The Palazzo Termine Pietra Tagliata in Palermo was one example. The ballroom (and the palaces all had ballrooms), with its frescoes by Vito Danna of 1762 depicting the triumphs of the prince surrounded by "virtu" has retained an enormous eighteenth-century Murano chandelier of clear glass with no less than ninety-nine arms. Even today, when much of the Sicilian nobles’ furniture has been sold and replaced by reproductions, many ballrooms still have huge and magnificent eighteenth- century Venetian chandeliers. The transportation and installation of these chandeliers leave one in awe of the expertise of eighteenth-century logistics. (Fig. 49)
Additional areas on the Italian peninsula imported from Venice, too, but others made their own ceiling fixtures. Since each area of Italy was a state unto itself, there were many styles and varieties; as examples, chandeliers in Piedmont in the Vercelli region were made of gilt bronze and wrought iron. In the provinces of lower Piedmont, they were made of wood and even “papier-mâché.” In Monferrato (again in Piedmont) simple, turned wood elements and carved wood candleholders on an iron cage were the style, and in Saluzzo carved giltwood and “repouseé tôle” were to be seen.
The elegant chandeliers made for the city palaces in Piedmont by the mid eighteenth century had iron structures or cages sometimes completely covered with crystal glass segments so that the effect seemed to be completely glass. The “bôbeche” (the drip pans) were of carved and gilded wood or gilt metal. The chandeliers were hung with various drop shapes, from pear, rectangular- acorn, and/or with hanging buds of crystal and long drops with another carved drop at its end. (Fig. 50)
While crystal glass was the main material for chandeliers (of the kind) in Piedmont, a factory in Turin produced a similar type, but in rock crystal, just for the royal family. These had the characteristic faceted elements attached along the arms, but of rock crystal, rather than glass.
The main manufacturing centers for chandeliers in Italy during the eighteenth century were Venice (Murano), followed by Genoa and Piedmont, with customers for the Venetian chandeliers, (as we have seen) as far away as Sicily. Chandeliers in Genoa as mentioned had carved and gilt wood shafts and various types of drops of all types and qualities; some are magnificent with great variety of pendants. In Venice, the chandeliers were, of course, of blown glass, either polychromed or colorless. (Fig. 51)