It will come as no surprise that the way we light our houses and public buildings has changed greatly over the last 500 years. Innovations from glassmaking to electricity have allowed designers to produce and reproduce such a range of new designs that pieces such as candlesticks or lamps have become popular subjects of collecting in their own right.
Candlesticks and Candelabra
For the 17th and 18th century household, lighting was an expensive endeavour. The high price of candle wax meant that candles and candelabra were items associated with wealth and so it is no wonder they are still valued today. Beyond simply functional, candlesticks of this period followed contemporary styles for silverware and furniture and were very much about form as well as function. Examples of British candlesticks dating from before the mid-17th century are very rare and usually ecclesiastical in origin because household metal objects were often melted down, in particular during the English Civil War. Candelabra were popularised towards the end of the 18th century and, unlike candlesticks, became common as centrepieces and so are often larger, heavier and more decorative, particularly in the Regency/Empire style.
Glass Lighting: Candlesticks, Lamps and Chandeliers
Lead crystal glass became a popular material for lighting after its invention by George Ravenscroft in 1676 because of the visual appeal of refractive glass and practical benefits of better lighting. While fundamentally practical pieces, glass candlesticks were embellished with twists and colouration and followed the prevailing styles of other glassware and furniture. Chandeliers were a yet more opulent method of lighting a room. Made in Britain, France and Italy, 18th century chandeliers were commissioned for stately houses and public buildings; earlier designs made from brass sometimes influenced their design. Oil lamps of varying types had been produced in Venice and the Arab world long before they were popularised in western Europe in the late 17th century after which they developed their own style and were well used in colonial America and the USA.
The invention of the incandescent lightbulb by Thomas Edison in 1885 was adapted for art and design by the Art Nouveau movement by the turn of the century. In both the US and Europe, designers used light to enhance their naturalistic style and give life to pieces featuring floral or animal designs. In Europe, lighting intersected with Art Nouveau sculpture and adopted the female form under the likes of Blairsy and Gustav Gurschner. By the mid-century, Italy and Scandinavia had become the centres of lighting design in a much transformed, modern style embracing modern materials, in particular plastics. This period saw manufacturers interacting and partnering with architects in search for harmony between interior and exterior design. The cycle of periodic rejection of prevailing styles was continued into the later 20th century as more ambitious styles such as ‘salvage’ arose as a departure from 20th century consumer culture.