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Chandelier

Chandelier

  • Place of origin:

    Germany (possibly, made)

  • Date:

    1480-1520 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Cast brass or latten

  • Museum number:

    2398-1855

  • Gallery location:

    Medieval & Renaissance, Room 62, case CEILING []

A ‘chandelier’ is literally a ‘candleholder’, its name deriving from the French for candle: ‘chandelle’. Chandeliers differ from candelabra in that they are suspended from the ceiling and usually have branch supports for two or more candles or electric lights. Chandeliers were important functional and decorative items in churches and domestic interiors.

Early chandeliers evolved from the candle-beam, two pieces of wood nailed together in the form of a cross with a pricket (spike) at each end. The candles fixed on the prickets were usually of animal fat (tallow), rather than the the more expensive beeswax.

As a medieval brass chandelier this is a rare survivor. Brass and bronze utility wares, even ones as elaborate as this, were frequently melted down and re-fashioned. The presence of the angel finial suggests this chandelier was used in a religious setting, either a public church or a chapel in a large private house. This chandelier may be compared with a fine and famous example in a prosperous merchant’s house shown in Jan Van Eyck’s painting Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and his Wife sometimes known as The Arnolfini Marriage of 1434 in the National Gallery, London.

Physical description

Chandelier of brass, which disassembles into 17 parts, including main stem consisting of 3 parts (angel figure, central rod and main body) , 4 upper branches and 8 lower branches, chain with hook attached and a separate suspension hook. The branches, which hook into slots in the stem, are decorated with scrolling vines terminating in Gothic quatrefoil leaves and terminate in circular drip pans. Each pan on the upper branches, and 4 pans on the lower branches, have openwork socket. The other 4 pans on the lower branches have prickets. The chandelier is topped by a wax-cast angel figure holding a shield. The base finial is in the from of a lion mask biting a suspension ring.

Place of Origin

Germany (possibly, made)

Date

1480-1520 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Cast brass or latten

Dimensions

Height: 98.1 cm Without chain, Diameter: 86 cm, Weight: 19.78 kg Without chain

Object history note

The provenance of this chandelier until the 19th century is not known. It was bought by the Museum from the Bernal Collection in 1855. This was an enormous collection of metalwork, glass, ceramics and miniatures belonging to Ralph Bernal, a lawyer and MP. The sale by Christie, Manson and Woods took 32 days during which 4294 lots fetched nearly £71,000. The Museum bought 730 lots including this chandelier for which it paid £13. 10s.

The chandelier may be seen as one of those objects which heralded a change in direction in the Museum's collecting activities after the appointment of John Charles Robinson as Curator in 1853. Robinson was a prolific collector and persuaded the Museum's first director, Henry Cole, that historic works of art were as instructive to students as 'modern manufactures'. Under Robinson's guidance, some of the earliest purchases by the Museum included outstanding examples of European metalwork.

Historical significance: As a medieval brass chandelier this is a rare survivor. Brass and bronze utility wares, even ones as elaborate as this, were frequently melted down and re-fashioned. The presence of the angel finial suggests this chandelier was used in a religious setting, either a public church or a chapel in a large private house.

Historical context note

A ‘chandelier’ is literally a ‘candleholder’, its name deriving from the French for candle: ‘chandelle’. Chandeliers differ from candelabra in that they are suspended from the ceiling and usually have branch supports for two or more candles or electric lights. Chandeliers were important functional and decorative items in churches and domestic interiors.

Early chandeliers evolved from the candle-beam, two pieces of wood nailed together in the form of a cross with a pricket (spike) at each end. The candles fixed on the prickets were usually of animal fat (tallow), rather than the the more expensive beeswax.

From the 15th century, more complex forms of chandeliers based on ring or crown designs became popular in cathedrals and the palaces of the rich. Chandeliers had elaborate running and twisted foliage covering their branches and, in the case of some church lights, figures of the Virgin Mary and saints on their central shafts.

The first chandeliers in private homes hung only in the homes of the very wealthy. For most households, the primary source of lighting after sunset was the fireplace. This chandelier may be compared with a fine and famous example in a prosperous merchant’s house shown in Jan Van Eyck’s painting Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and his Wife sometimes known as The Arnolfini Marriage of 1434 in the National Gallery, London.

In the 15th century the finest chandeliers were made in Germany especially in areas around the lower Rhine near Cologne and in northern Germany as well as in Flemish centres such as Dinant.

Descriptive line

Brass chandelier, German or Flemish, 1480-1520, topped by an angel figure, with central rod and main body, 4 upper branches and 8 lower branches, lion mask lower finial

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Tavenor-Perry, J., Dinanderie: A History and Description of Medieval Art Work in Copper, Brass and Bronze, George Allen & Sons, London, 1910, pp. 146-7 (illustrated)
ter Kuile, Onno, Koper & Brons, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, Staatsuitgeverij 's-gravenhage, 1986, pp. 122-127, cats. 170-173
Erixon, Sigurd, Gammel Massing, ICA-förlaget Västerås, 1965, p. 10

Labels and date

CHANDELIER
Cast brass
South Netherlandish; about 1480
From the Bernal Collection
The South Netherlands (Flanders) was a major European centre of brass production, and its wares were widely exported in the Middle Ages. Chandeliers such as this one were intended for use in churches, or in the houses of merchants and noblemen, and are sometimes depicted in contemporary Flemish paintings. []

Production Note

Possibly Flemish

Materials

Brass

Techniques

Casting

Subjects depicted

Lion; Angels

Categories

Architectural fittings; Household objects; Interiors; Lighting; Metalwork

Collection

Metalwork Collection

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