Lantern thumbnail 1
Lantern thumbnail 2
Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Medieval & Renaissance, Room 62, The Foyle Foundation Gallery


1570-1600 (made)
Place of origin

This lantern probably hung in the portego of a Venetian palace, the large, first floor room used for grand entertainments such as weddings or dances. Its opulent carving in the mannerist style would have combined with other gilded and painted woodwork, such as picture frames or ceiling beams, to present a magnificent effect to visitors. It is likely that the lantern was originally glazed.

Object details

Object type
Materials and techniques
Wood (possibly walnut and pine), carved, gilded and painted; lined with tinned iron
Brief description
A hanging lantern of carved and gilded wood, Italian, in the mannerist style
Physical description
Rectangular hanging lantern of carved wood, gilded with some painted areas; consisting of an antependium, framework, cornice and canopy; with an internal iron strap armature bolted to the main suspension rod passing through the urn.

Structurally, the lantern appears to have been designed to be supported from beneath, with the weight of the main box resting on projections from a box (supported by figurative brackets) that rests in turn on a solid collar with central, circular hole (possibly for a post). A variety of joints appear to have been used, reinforced with nails.

Detailed description
An antependium with four central, oval cartouches above grotesque masks forming a box, supported by scrolling brackets with naked satyrs; below which is a central socket with round aperture.
The principal framework with plinth and entablature, comprising four cartouche frames with a projecting, angled, open-work sight edge. The projecting framework cut with rebates, probably for glass panes. At each projecting corner a swagged, naked female term, one hand supporting a projecting cornice above, the other clasped across her chest, the volute terminating in a grotesque mask.

The cornice with projecting corners consisting of lambrequin ornament and a large central double volute on each side. On each projecting corner a naked putto seated on a gilded ball, with one hand raised, a gesture that echoes the raised arms of the female terms below, and which may have been intended to evoke Christ blessing, with his right hand raised and two fore-fingers extended (as in Desiderio da Settignano, Tabernacle of San Lorenzo, Florence). Each side with a horizontal window with rounded ends, with strapwork border and voluted pediment terminating in a grotesque mask.

The complex canopy with four large corner scrolls decorated with coin ornament and a grotesque mask, containing four classical mermaids with bifurcating fish tails and short wings, the canopy terminating in an urn with swags, grotesque masks, and a hanging ring above.

The interior of the lantern with a metal sheet (probably tinned iron) lining nailed in place, and a pierced pine (?) substructure (presumably to support the lightsource) on iron brackets held with screws. A central, circular hole in the antependium has been cut with 2 regular, vertical grooves suggesting that a lamp unit with matching extended fins might have been inserted from below (on a pole) then rotated in order to sit inside the lantern.

All the show areas are gilded (apparently a mix of water and oil gilding, tbc during conservation 2007) save for the figures which have been painted in flesh tones. Areas of replaced wood (to be listed: ) have been painted a dark wood colour rather than gilded following the original scheme.

Various small elements of carving are missing (at 6/2005) or have been replaced (date uncertain).
  • Height: 214cm
  • Diameter: 86.4cm
  • Weight: 90.5kg
  • Depth: 86.4cm
Measured for the Medieval and Renaissance Galleries
Gallery label
  • Lantern c.1570 Hanging from the ceiling, grand lanterns were a common feature in Venice, providing much needed lighting high up in the room and a visual focus for large spaces. Inspired by ship lanterns, they would strongly resonate in a society which earned its commercial primacy through maritime trade. This example, richly carved with mermaids, satyrs and other figures, would probably have incorporated glass panels. Venice Carved wood, parcel gilt and painted, and iron V&A: 7225-1860(5 Oct 2006 - 7 Jan 2007)
  • LANTERN Carved and gilt wood; the figures flesh-tinted ITALIAN (Venice); about 1570 7225-1860 Said to have come from the Palazzo Gradenigo in Venice. The lantern was perhaps made for Vincenzo Gradenigo, who was Venetian Ambassador to Henri IV of France in 1594. The side openings were originally filled with glass.(Pre-2006)
Object history
Bought for £250. Formerly in the collection of Jules Soulages of Toulouse

Anthony Burton (Vision and Accident, p.34-5) quotes the words of a journalist in the Athenaeum, 6 December 1856, pp.1052-3 who in reviewing the exhibition of the Soulages collection at Marlborough House must be referring to 7225-1860 when he wrote: "There it swings as it did two hundred years ago, when St Mark's bell tolled for the death of Foscari, - or on rough nights, when the spray of the Lagoon broke in over the marble steps and splashed the smiling faces of its cedar seraphs..."

In 1969 Peter Thornton noted in Arte Illustrate that the lantern was said to have come from the Palazzo Gradenigo and perhaps to have been made for Vincenzo Gradenigo, who was the Venetian Ambassador to Henry IV if France in 1594.No evidence for this attribution has been tracked down.

On the question of glazing, Pollen describes the square central part as having been 'once glazed', but also says of the 'central panels...pushed outwards on four narrow sloping side panels; the upright sides, which are the longest, divided by small circles' that 'All these panels have been glazed with bevelled plates.' and 'Above these figures are four sitting boys, and there are four long panels of glass between them.' None of the large apertures show evidence of hinges, however so the question of how the lantern was lit internally is uncertain. On the question of lighting, Pollen says 'The bottom finishes with a carved boss, pierced for the lamp to pass through and reach its proper position inside the lantern.' If he is right, the oil-lamp (with two projecting side fins), already lit could have been raised up into the bottom aperture (circular with two rectangular cut-outs) on a pole, then twisted so that the projecting fins held the lamp in place. However, given that the lantern makes more sense structurally if supported from below, Pollen's theory of access is unfeasible and an alternative, ingenious method of lighting must be suggested.

Comparable objects
Photographs of the Long Gallery (built in the 1830s) of Adare Manor, Co. Limerick in the Country Life article on the house (by John Cornforth, 15/5/1969), show four matching lanterns in situ. This may be the source of the note by Peter Thornton in an article in Arte Illustrate in 1969 that 'its pair is now hanging in a country house in Ireland'. The Knight of Glin in a typewritten document in the VA information section says of the Great Hall (p.4). that the fourth Earl (Windham Thomas) suceeded in 1871 (d.1926), but he was not particularly interested in building. He travelled abroad and was a great yachtsman, and Cornforth refers to his Past Times and Pastimes (1922). His only addition to the Manor was the Detmar Blow series of Venetian Renaissance lanterns in the long gallery. Detmar Blow was an English architect active c.1890- 1910?, a disciple of John Ruskin. It may be that the Adare lanterns are coloured electrotype copies by Franchi, which Pollen (1874) refers p.172. The Christie's catalogue at the time of the sale of the contents of the house (Christie's Adare Manor Ireland, 9 & 10 June 1982, lots 358 and 359) shows one of the four in greater detail (they were sold as two pairs). The catalogue entry refers to the V&A lantern and its origin from the Ca'Rezzonico but this provenance is fanciful. The catalogue specifically refers to details as 'carved', which makes their identification with the early electrotypes unlikely.

Two lanterns of similar design can be seen in Jeremy Musson, 'A modern Irish Masterpiece. Kilboy, Co. Tipperary', in Country Life vol. CCX no. 36, pp. 80-86, shown in figs. 3 and 4, in the Dining Room and Library of this completely new-built house. The lanterns in the 1982 Adare sale were described as 'green-painted and parcel-gilt' but the two at Kilboy are clearly painted white or light stone colour. It is also possible that they are much more recent re-creations of the design

Original context
Peter Thornton (Arte Illustrate, 1970) suggested that the lantern "may have come from a Venetian galley, perhaps even the Bucentoro of the day. It no longer has its glass panels. There is a tradition that it was made for Vincenzo Gradenigo, who became Venetian Ambassador to the court of France in 1594. The lantern probably dates from the 1570s and its pair is now hanging in a country house in Ireland [Adare]." This provenance is first given by Robinson (1856) 'This imposing decorative object was brought from the palace of the Counts Gradenigo in Venice, and was doubtless originally suspended from the ceiling of the "sala grande", or great hall of the palace.'

Surviving fanali (in Museo Correr, Venice) and those illustrated on Venetian galleys in late 16th century images such as illustrations of the Battle of Lepanto, appear always to have been supported from beneath, on a substantial pole or bracket - never suspended from above. An elaborate cresting is usually shown above naval lanterns. It appears that structurally 7225-1860 was designed to be supported from beneath and was later adapted to hang by the addition of an internal hanging mechanism and the removal of a sub-support. The proportions of the lantern (nearly 90cm wide, but apparently resting on a support of about 10cm diameter) and its elaborate carved surfaces seem to argue against the idea that it was intended to be satisfactorily supported in this way on a moving ship, other than perhaps a sedate ceremonial occasion.

Views of Venetian domestic dances which feature similar lanterns (see below) provide evidence that ornate hanging lanterns were used in grand interiors.The Venetian custom of displaying naval lanterns in a palace setting as family trophies may have inspired the design of 7225-1860. Isabella Palumbo Fossati (in an email to Nick Humphrey 22/2/2006) says that the documents she has seen relating to the palazzi of elite Venetians with important military roles speak often of 'fano della galia' etc., but that these are in general not suspended but placed in the lower entrance hall (portego da basso), where they are still sometime found today. At Palazzo Donà della Rose two naval lanterns are illustrated (supported from below on arm brackets) in Bolletino...(1924), pp.58-9. Without a precise provenance it seems probable that 7225-1860 was displayed in a grand domestic setting from an early date, but evocative of naval fanali.

The painting of Pope Allesandro III handing over his sword to Doge Sebastiano Ziani, 1577-85 by Francesco Bassano (Doges Palace, Venice) does show a gilt lantern with figure carving, and some Venetian galleys bore surprisingly ostentatious carved ornament, given the risk of incidental damage. However, the examples of surviving fanali in Museo Correr are rather more structurally robust (and less like 3-d picture frames) and retain - covering the wooden structure - protective sheet metal on the exterior surfaces, that would presumably have been bright originally, but is now dull.
Historical context
A lantern of this scale and opulence might have hung in the portego of a Venetian palazzo. Patricia Fortini Brown (Private Lives in Renaissance Venice, 2004, p.71-5) describes the portego as 'typically a room of reflections and hard edges. Light streaming in through the windows in front, or flickering from a glass lamp or chandelier, glanced off floors of gleaming paston or terrazzo...Written accounts suggest that this was the most public room in the house, a space for grand entertaining: as Scamozzi put it, "to receive relatives at the time of weddings, and to have banquets, and celebrations."...The semi-public function of the portego [with a loggia on the palazzo facade at the end of this room], where the head of the house might receive business clients who would not be invited into the more private rooms, is suggested by this degree of visibility from the outside. Anyone passing by in a gondola could admire the beamed, coffered, and often painted ceilings and Murano glass chandeliers. Indeed, the function of the portego was, first and foremost, display.'

At least two images c.1600 show lanterns of similar form to 7225-1860, hanging in large rooms (each probably representing a Venetian portego), the setting for a wedding (painting, attributed to Paolo Fiammingo (1540-96), illustrated in Jonathan Bourne and Vanessa Brett, Lighting in the Domestic Interior, p.10, fig.8), and a dance (drawing, by Jacob Matham (1571-1631), Royal Collection No.12838, illustrated in Leo van Puyvelde, The Dutch Drawings in the collection of His Majesty the King at Windsor Castle, London 1944), cat. 622.
This lantern probably hung in the portego of a Venetian palace, the large, first floor room used for grand entertainments such as weddings or dances. Its opulent carving in the mannerist style would have combined with other gilded and painted woodwork, such as picture frames or ceiling beams, to present a magnificent effect to visitors. It is likely that the lantern was originally glazed.
Bibliographic references
  • Bolletino d'Arte del Ministero della Publica Istruzione (1924), pp.58-60
  • LAING, Alastair: Lighting. (London, V & A, The Arts and Living, 1982), p.50
  • Pollen, J. H. Ancient and Modern Furniture & Woodwork in the South Kensington Museum (London, 1874), pp.171-2
  • Schottmüller, Frieda, Furniture and Interior Decoration of the Italian Renaissance (Stuttgart, 1928), p.XXXI
  • Thornton, Peter. 'I mobili Italiani del Victoria & Albert Museum, Arte Illustrata (March-May 1970), anno III, pp.124-125 and pp.183-4
  • Burns, Howard, et al., Andrea Palladio 1508-1580: the Portico and the Farmyard, London: Arts Council of Great Britain, 1975.
  • Ajmar-Wollheim, Marta and Flora Dennis, At Home in Renaissance Italy, London: V&A Publishing, 2006.
  • J.C.Robinson, Catalogue of the Soulages Collection: being a descriptive inventory of a collection of works of decorative art, formerly in the possession of M. Jules Soulages of Toulouse; now, by permission of the Committee of Privy Council for Trade, exhibited to the public at the Museum of Ornamental Art, Marlborough House (London 1856), pp. 167-8, no.668
  • Clive Wainwright, 'Models of Inspiration' in Country Life, June 9, 1988, pp.266-7
  • Italian furniture of the sixteenth century by Eveline B. Mitford, from The Connoisseur, December 1906, pp.227-232
Accession number

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Record createdMay 23, 2005
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