- An Early History Of Lighting
- Four Significant Periods
- History Of The Candlestick
- History Of Chandeliers
Not everyone may find the following concise history of lighting fascinating, but it has been extensively researched and curated to provide insight into the captivating story of lighting throughout history. By taking a few extra minutes to read, you can gain a greater appreciation for how lighting has evolved over the centuries.
An Early History Of Lighting
The use of pine knots and resinous hardwood in wrought iron cressets or fire baskets was the earliest form of artificial lighting, and it remained unchanged in China, Persia, and Mesopotamia for the first 3,000 years of recorded civilization. In addition to the torch, evidence from pyramids shows that grease lamps - shallow wrought iron or earthenware bowls with an attached hanger and lip, fueled with animal fat or fish oil - were used extensively. However, these lamps were inefficient and produced an unpleasant odor.
Archaeological evidence suggests that prehistoric humans used similar lighting devices that persisted until the 18th century. A French artifact dating back 20,000 years found an indented rock with hardened grease and vegetable fiberinside.
Four Significant Periods
Lighting can be broadly categorized into four periods - Primitive, Classical, Medieval, and Invention. During the Primitive period, flaming torches and simple lamps with wicks were commonplace. The pear-shaped fixtures with the engraved head and horns of the ibex depicted in cave art at La Moute, France, were also used by French peasants until the early 20th century. Classical lighting was mostly developed in Greece and Rome, where bronze and clay were respectively used by the wealthy and poor. They never discovered the principle of combustion, which resulted in the presence of smoke and odor whenever lamps were lit.
In Medieval times, metalwork lamps emerged during the Dark Ages, the Crusades, and the Renaissance. The Invention period of lighting coincides with the Medieval era and began in 1490 with Leonardo Da Vinci, who enclosed the flame within a glass chimney and then within a water-filled glass globe, reducing flicker and improving its performance in drafty areas. In 1879 Thomas Edison invented the incandescent light, which revolutionized the world of lighting and gave birth to electricity.
History Of The Candlestick
A clay candle holder dating back to 400BC is the oldest discovered candlestick, and it is believed that Ancient Egyptians created the candle as early as 3000BC using beeswax to light their way in the dark.
In the 1600s, candlestick designs were mainly made of silver and sturdier than the later brass examples. These candlesticks had an inverted wine cup shaped base.
The English silver table candlesticks first appeared during the early 17th century, in the reign of Charles I, and are now extremely rare to find. During this period and into the early 18th century, candlesticks were made for functional use rather than decoration, which resulted in a large quantity being produced and used frequently. Due to this, it can be challenging to find them in perfect condition. Sadly, many candlesticks from this period were melted down for mass production, especially during the Civil War.
In the 18th century, the baluster form became more popular, which then evolved into various other swelling and undulating forms with ornamental edges. To lower manufacturing costs, sheets of metal were stamped and encased around a metal, plaster or pitch core, making it possible for the candlestick to keep its weight without using expensive materials. The standard table candlestick height during this time increased, doubling in size to 12 inches.
During the 1870s, the electric lightbulb was invented and gradually introduced to homes worldwide, making candlesticks less necessary but still popular as decorative pieces.
Candlesticks were especially popular during the Early Elizabethan and Stuart periods but sadly, most of them were melted down, making items from this era extremely rare to find. The methodology of melting down English candlesticks was also used during the Civil War.
History Of Chandeliers
Chandeliers have been present in Europe since the Middle Ages, using candles as the light source and initially made of wooden frames, which posed a fire hazard when positioned under timber roofs. These evolved from candelabras and polycandelions, seen in various places of worship worldwide, representing light in the darkness.
Despite the ornate frames being expensive, chandeliers made of metal, such as bronze or iron, became increasingly popular by the 15th century. These decorative frames demanded skilled craftsmanship, making them expensive to acquire. The cost was within the reach of only elite members of society like noble aristocrats, high-ranking religious officials or prosperous merchants who desired to light their homes with chandeliers. Additionally, wealthy individuals who indulged in hunting frequently used deer antlers to fashion chandelier frames, as they were readily available.
The 18th century can be rightfully deemed the golden epoch of chandeliers due to the numerous advancements in materials and designs. Cast ormolu frames with long, curved arms that held multiple candles became fashionable in the early years. Designs of neoclassical form became commonplace during the 18th century, using cast ormolu frames, and later, cut glass chandeliers rose in popularity due to cheaper production costs of lead crystal. Bohemian and Murano chandeliers were highly sought after by the wealthy for their remarkable light refraction and shapes made of soda glass, respectively.
Chandeliers have remained popular despite substantial changes in lifestyles as well as interior design over the years. There has been a shift towards more complex and freeform contemporary styles, like the hanging sculpture 'Rotunda' by Dale Chihuly at London's V&A Museum, whereas traditional cut glass chandeliers remain a favourite amongst consumers, imparting elegance and luxury.
The evolution of lighting, from the use of pine knots and resinous hardwoods to the invention of the incandescent light, has been a fascinating journey. The history of candlesticks and chandeliers offers an insight into how lighting accessories have been a part of our lives since ancient times. From the basic flaming torches to the ornate cast ormolu frames with long, curved arms that held multiple candles. Despite the changes in lifestyle and interior design preferences, chandeliers have endured the test of time. People still appreciate the beauty of traditional cut glass chandeliers that impart elegance and luxury to their surroundings. Even with the advent of electricity, candles and chandeliers remain popular as decorative pieces. It's insightful to look back and observe how lighting accessories have evolved over time and the role they play in our lives.