Chandeliers in the Seventeenth
and Eighteenth Centuries
By Helen Costantino Fioratti
Simpler chandeliers around Europe were of “tôle,” decorated with either more “tôle” flowers, or when costly, with porcelain flowers. These were added to the decorative repertoire in the eighteenth century both in Italy and France. “Tôle” lighting fixtures became fashionable and competed with more expensive materials even in the most important palaces (and are now both rare and expensive). The iron or laminated copper sheets that were used for the structures were protected by heat resistant varnish. (Fig. 60)
Porcelain flowers attached to a bronze cage, or other metal such as painted iron, represented another style that was very fashionable. (Fig. 61) Examples still occasionally appear on the market, but sell for a very high price. In France the naturalistically painted metal leaves had white or polychromed flowers which were usually of soft paste porcelain, Chantilly, St. Cloud, or Vincennes.
In 1750, Lazare Duvaux, supplied a chandelier of this type with matching sconces for Madame de Pompadour. Their structure consisted of gilded bronze “treillage,” each of which had six branches. The painted green leaves supported Meissen porcelain figurines and a rock crystal pyramid simulating a rivulet of water. The chandelier was also garnished with many Vincennes porcelain flowers, which furthered the vogue for such lighting accessories.
The Piedmontese were also very fond of this Arcadian style during the eighteenth century. They had beautiful examples, made with gilt bronze or painted iron supports with locally made porcelain or “tôle” flowers in naturalistic colors. These chandeliers sought to create a pastoral atmosphere. In the eighteenth century, with the great vogue for porcelain, many chandeliers were thus embellished with soft paste French flowers, or Meissen hard paste figures and flowers.
An unusual chandelier (Fig. 62) is painted in imitation of blue and white Meissen porcelain, more specifically the Blue Onion Pattern. Based on Chinese blue and white porcelain of the Ming period, the onion pattern was developed in Meissen in circa 1730, using stylized forms of chrysanthemums, lotus and other Chinese flowers and fruit.
In December 1751, the duc de Luynes wrote that the “menus” purchased a great number of chandeliers and girandole of (what he called) Bohemian crystal for the “fêtes” or social events at the time of the wedding of the Infante. He wrote that before these purchases they had been obliged to rent them each time. After this they again purchased chandeliers for the sum of 400,000 livres so that finally he wrote they had enough to hang in all the “apartments.”
In the sale catalogue of the collection of Monsieur Houdin, "conseilier rapporteur du point d' honneur," in 1782 there were two gilded gueridon, above which were "lustres" (probably what we now call "girandole"). In certain inventories, chandeliers were called "grenaille," such as that of the Princesse de Lamballe at Versailles in 1785. The distinction between a “lustre” and a “girandole” is evident from Baroness d’Oberkirch’s description of a dinner party given for the Count and Countess du Nord (the aliases of the son and daughter-in-law of Catherine the Great of Russia who traveled through Europe “incognito” in the 1780’s):
After dinner we went to the queen's apartments. All the court was present for a great concert in the Salon de la Paix. There were folding stools in the “galerie” for those presented (to the queen) but who had not received invitations. A thousand “lustres” were hanging from the ceiling, “girandoles” of forty candles were on all the consoles. The queen animated everything with her ‘éclat’ (sparkle). (Fig. 63)