The Impact of 18th Century Chandeliers

August 01, 2016

Versailles remains one of the popular palaces in France. The chandeliers that hang there define spectacular. These early eighteenth century chandeliers relied on candlelight, requiring multiple chandeliers in each room to produce usable light. Four incomparable chandeliers hang in the quadrants of each individual bedroom, reflecting a period of unsurpassed luxury and indulgence. Because of the limited number of highly skilled chandelier makers, only the very powerful and very rich could own them.

Maria Theresia, empress of Austria, after visiting the court of Louis XV in Versailles, returned to Austria totally enchanted by what she had seen. Not to be outdone, she commissioned magnificent chandeliers for the rooms in her own palace to rival those of Louis. Made in the old Bohemian glassworks, these chandeliers became known as Maria Theresa chandeliers, and have experienced a number of surges in popularity through the years. (One hangs in the stairwell of Elvis’s Graceland) The American lighting industry continues to see a resurgence of interest in the beautiful, elaborate style, marked with the complex use of crystal. Many of today’s finest still come from Czechoslovakia, where they were originally made. While there are a variety of updated versions, the classic patterns that encase gilt iron in glass, set with crystal rosettes, remain a standard, imparting a lush antique look to the rooms in which they hang.

The crystal chandeliers used today are truly room jewelry. Lighting expectations require many more discrete sources to supplement the dimly lit crystal showpieces that sparkle and refract the light. Ideally, the light level of the chandelier replicates that of candle light. That soft glow allows full appreciation of the workmanship in the chandelier, while minimizing glare. Complementary sconces or candelabra can be a great echoing of the chandelier's opulence. No one piece is seen alone. It is part of an entire scheme of lighting sources and artifacts. The challenge is to impart the impression that the artifacts are illuminating the room, when in fact they are simply showcasing themselves. Many of the techniques discussed in previous columns can help create this illusion. Remember to create many small sources of light, each performing its immediate task, while contributing to the overall lighting plan. The combination of dramatically lit space and breathtaking accent fixtures can set the tone for an entire decorating plan. Bring your interior designer and your lighting planner together to produce the best possible results.