A very elegant pair of Victorian cut-glass and gilt brass 12-light chandeliers, each with a palmette-cast corona above four tiers of cascading drops, the central shaft hung with bands of drops, the gilded scrolled branches each with drip-pans hung with drops, the boss flanked by graduated tiers of drops, adapted for electricity, the frames rebuilt
England, date circa 1890
Height 180 cm, diameter 70 cm. each.
The earliest glass chandeliers date from late seventeenth century Venice. Although the French made costly imitations in pure rock crystal, the English soon came to dominate the field - not only in the manufacture of chandeliers but in most aspects of glass making. This was primarily due to George Ravenscroftâ€™s experimentation with lead crystal glass, which proved ideally suited for all forms of glass making and in particular for the manufacture of glass chandeliers since when cut, the glass droplets significantly enhanced the relatively feeble light emitted from a candle. Far from being merely practical items to illuminate a stately room, chandeliers were regarded as objects of great beauty as well as status symbols, since only the very rich could afford them.
The first known English chandeliers date from about 1740; they consisted of a decorated central stem and simple arms which gradually became more elaborate. By the mid eighteenth century the rococo style dominated their overall design which then gave way to more refined classical elements during the latter part of the century. Until the beginning of the nineteenth century stems and branches were equally visible but then a dramatic stylistic change occurred. The radiating branches, which still controlled the overall design, began to be arranged in tiers to increase the effect of lighting and to keep the design open. Soon the decoration of swags and pendent droplets became so elaborate that the arms were virtually obscured. The same occurred to the central shaft or stem, which also became submerged in a mass of glass lustre drops. Such changes in design as well as the popularity for chandeliers during the 1800â€™s was partly due the Prince of Walesâ€™ passion for elaborate lighting, most notably at his newly built Brighton Pavilion, built in 1803.
In 1808 the Prince employed the famous English glass manufacturers, Parker and Perry to make a chandelier â€˜designed to represent a fountain falling into a large reservoirâ€™. Here, as in the present pieces, the central shaft and arms were encased within a â€˜bagâ€™ or â€˜tentâ€™, formed of strings of glass droplets. Likewise the arms no longer spread from the stem but from a circular metal band. The Prince was so enchanted that he sought even more elaborate designs, such as one supplied by Parker and Perry in 1817 for Brighton which was ornamented with Oriental lotus leaf shades around the edge, supported by dragon legs and suspended in the claws of a silvered dragon.
Other early nineteenth century chandeliers were arranged with finger fringes, consisting of concentric rings of glass prisms hanging from a concentric ring. John Blades of London made many of these after a design by J. B. Papworth. F. and C. Osler of Birmingham can be counted among other important nineteenth century glass manufacturers whose chandeliers were purchased by such clientele as the Duke of Wellington, Sir Robert Peel and the Egyptian ruler Ibrahim Pascha. By the mid nineteenth century there were about 20 different firms in the Birmingham and Stourbridge area involved in the production of glass chandeliers but by the end of the century the introduction of electricity and wider use of gas had seriously undermined production. To overcome this, new models sometimes came ready fitted for electricity, while in more recent years older models such as these have been adapted with great skill. Despite a fall in demand, glass chandeliers continued to be made throughout the twentieth century and are still being produced today since above all they are objects of supreme beauty, which will always add splendour and elegance to any setting.