Chandeliers in the Seventeenth
and Eighteenth Centuries
By Helen Costantino Fioratti
A detailed eyewitness account of glassblowing at Murano is provided by the Président de Brosses from Dijon, “counselor” of the Parliament de Bourgogne in 1739. The glass pieces, he wrote, were “neither as large nor as white as the French glass but were more transparent and less subject to flaws." (Fig. 52) De Brosses also describes the exacting, almost Herculean work of the glass-blowers themselves:
They pour them on copper tables like ours: they are blown like bottles. Extremely large and robust workmen are needed to work on this, particularly to balance the large globes of crystal in the air held by the long iron which serves for blowing. "
The workmen take in the crucible a large quantity of molten material at the bottom of the stick. The material is sticky and has a rubbery consistency. The artisan, by blowing has made a hollow globe; then by balancing it in the air and presenting it at the exact moment to his entrance of the oven, to keep in the condition of a certain degree of fusion, always turning it very quickly to prohibit that the material presented to the fire doesn't drip on one side more than the other. Then another workman, with the point of a pair of scissors make like those for shearing a sheep, which is to say that they expand when one relaxes the hand, pierces the oval at its end. The first worker, who holds the blowing stick which the globe is attached, turns it very quickly, while the second loosens the hand that holds the scissors a little at a time.
In this manner the oval is opened from one end to the other, to another blowing stick made expressly; it is then opened at the other end by the same method described above. Hence there is a large cylinder with an equally large diameter. One presents it again to the opening of the oven to soften it a little again, and taking it out of there, all in the blink of an eye, with one cut of the scissor one cuts it lengthwise and promptly places it flat on a copper table. Afterwards one places it again in another oven to polish it and put the tinning on, if it is a mirror.
The taste for opulent lighting also made its way to central Europe. Friedrich Wilhelm I (1688-1740), the frugal and very often violent (and drunk) ruler of Prussia, provided a sumptuous setting for the wedding of his daughter Frédérique Sophie Wilhemine on November 30, 1731. The bride recounted that,
In the first chamber I passed through, there was a "lustre" of silver which weighed (the worth of) 10,000 ecus; the second was even more superb, with a "lustre" much larger than the preceding. This was augmented in the last room, with its large portraits of the Emperor and the Empress with silver frames, by a "lustre" worth its weight of 50,000 ecus.
The globe was so large that an eight year old child could enter it comfortably. The chandelier plaques were six feet in height; the room contained more than two million in the weight of the silver alone, but instead of using [wax] candles, they used the [type of] taper which caused a suffocating fog which blackened the faces and clothes [of the guests].” (Similar problems with such candles are recounted by others).
Friedrich Wilhelm had all this silver made after his first visit to Dresden. He had seen the treasury of the King of Poland there and wished to surpass him. Unable to possess such precious stones as the latter owned, he opted for a novelty that no other sovereign in Europe had yet had, and so ordered great quantities of silver, but in the end his innate frugality spoiled this endeavor and his huge outlay.
The chandeliers in Europe varied also due to their glass components, which differed from place to place in brilliance, clarity, solidity, or the hard quality of the glass. In Austria, glassworks was established in Innsbruck by Archduke Ferdinand (son of the Emperor and brother of Maximillian II) after he became regent of the Tyrol in 1567. The establishment was staffed by Venetians who made “cristallo” style wares. The Archduke is reputed to have even blown a beaker himself, which was then set into a jeweled silver mount. The sturdy quality of the northern glass also gave the German and Netherlandish artisans a chance to make excellent engraved decorations. Elegant chandeliers made by Bohemian makers were also supplied to Germany and Austria.