The chandelier has always been a symbol of elegance and wealth, and their designs have transformed over time. As popular design aesthetics have evolved, so have these iconic pieces of home decor. While the extravagant chandeliers immortalized by classic Hollywood are what typically come to mind when discussing the historic light fixture, its origin actually begins hundreds of years earlier.
The word chandelier comes from the French word, chandelle, which means candle. The earliest forms of chandeliers, introduced in the 6th Century, were typically made of a wooden cross with a small spike at each end to hold candles made of animal fat. These large crosses were then hung from the ceiling to illuminate an entire room. While these types of light fixtures offered more illumination than traditional wall sconces or tallows, they weren’t without their faults. Rooms featuring chandeliers required holes in them to allow for ventilation, and guests who stood directly underneath the light risked having hot wax drip on them.
Beginning in the 11th Century brass replaced wood in chandelier design, making the light fixtures larger and more ornate than before. These detailed lights appeared most frequently in areas of public gathering, like churches and abbeys until the 16th century when chandeliers began appearing in homes of the most wealthy and affluent of the population.
In the late 1600s, glassmaker George Ravenscroft introduced the use of leaded glass into the world of lighting design. Rock crystal chandeliers of the 17th Century made use of ancient stones found beneath the Earth’s surface. These unique crystals were the inspiration for the first moulded glass drop crystals created by French glassmakers years later. As these glassmakers experimented further with their designs, the addition of glass floral accents and tinted glass began to make their way into chandeliers as well.
Baroque and Rococo styles later began to take hold of the lighting industry, which inspired the combined use of brass and crystal to create extravagant works of art. Most chandeliers at this time included a variety of decorative accents ranging from flowers and leaves, to cupids. Governmental regulations of glass in England also inspired chandelier designs of this time. Tent and bag style chandeliers were first constructed of broken glass strung together to look like a tent, because broken glass was taxed more lightly than larger pieces during that time.
The electric light bulb, which was invented in 1879, brought a design revolution to the world of lighting. One of the biggest changes was the direction of the light source -- modern chandeliers made use of downward-facing lights. The designs of Louis Comfort Tiffany, which married the chandelier with stained glass windows, are indicative of this time period. Another popular lighting designer, Daniel Swarovski, introduced the crystal chandelier to the mass market in the mid-1900s.
Today, chandeliers take on a variety of shapes and designs. While some ornate chandeliers are reminiscent of the brass and crystal designs of days past, others take a more modern approach to lighting design. No matter what design you choose for your home, hanging a chandelier is sure to make a statement.