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Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Medieval & Renaissance, Room 64, The Wolfson Gallery

Chandelier

1450 - 1500 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

Chandeliers were important functional and decorative items in churches and domestic interiors. 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.

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 church lights, figures of the Virgin Mary and saints on their central shafts. Such a figure may once have adorned the centre of this chandelier. The candles may not only have provided light to a church or chapel interior but also acted as a shrine to be lit on a saint’s day and offered prayers.

As a medieval church chandelier this is a rare survivor. Few chandeliers escaped the destruction of the religious struggles of the 16th century. It is also a rare example of an iron chandelier. At this date, most chandeliers were made of brass which was cast and reproduced in moulds making them cheaper.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Iron, wrought, painted and gilded
Brief Description
Lantern style chandelier in wrought and gilded iron, triangular in form with 6 branches, Germany, 1450 - 1500
Physical Description
Chandelier of wrought iron, painted and gilt. Of triangular form, surmounted by a large suspension ring, the whole decorated with cusped arches, pinnacles and Gothic foliage. There are branches and pans for 6 candles each with borders of openwork running foliage and the central socket of the chandelier has a fixing either for a thinner candle or the figure of a saint or Virgin Mary.
Dimensions
  • Height: 97.4cm
  • Width: 49.6cm
  • Depth: 44.5cm
  • Weight: 10.72kg
Measured for the Medieval and Renaissance Galleries
Gallery Label
CHANDELIER Wrought and gilded iron German; about 1450-1500 This is a rare example of a chandelier in this material; at this date chandeliers were more commonly of brass, because it could be mass-produced, and was therefore cheaper.(07/1994)
Object history
The chandelier was one of the Museum's early purchases, bought in 1857 for £25. It 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 church chandelier this is a rare survivor. Few chandeliers escaped the destruction of the religious struggles of the 16th century. It is also a rare example of an iron chandelier. At this date, most chandeliers were made of brass which was cast and reproduced in moulds making them cheaper.
Historical context
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. Such a figure may once have adorned the centre of this chandelier. The candles may not only have provided light to a church or chapel interior but also acted as a shrine to be lit on a saint’s day and offered prayers.



The first chandeliers in private homes hung only in the homes of the wealthy. For most households, the primary source of lighting after sunset was the fireplace. A fine and famous example of a chandelier in a prosperous merchant’s house is 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.
Summary
Chandeliers were important functional and decorative items in churches and domestic interiors. 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.



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 church lights, figures of the Virgin Mary and saints on their central shafts. Such a figure may once have adorned the centre of this chandelier. The candles may not only have provided light to a church or chapel interior but also acted as a shrine to be lit on a saint’s day and offered prayers.



As a medieval church chandelier this is a rare survivor. Few chandeliers escaped the destruction of the religious struggles of the 16th century. It is also a rare example of an iron chandelier. At this date, most chandeliers were made of brass which was cast and reproduced in moulds making them cheaper.
Bibliographic References
  • Gardner, J. Starkie, Ironwork:Part 1. From the Earliest Times to the End of Medieval Period, First published London, 1892, Revised by W.W. Watts and printed under the authority of The Board of Education, 1927, Photolitho Impression 1978, p. 124 and plate 52
  • Campbell, Marian, An Introduction to Ironwork, London: HMSO, 1985, p. 9 and p. 19, plate 3
  • ter Kuile, Onno, Koper & Brons, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, Staatsuitgeverij 's-gravenhage, 1986, p. 122, cat. 170
  • Erixon, Sigurd, Gammel Massing, ICA-förlaget Västerås, 1965, p. 11
  • Campbell, Marian, Decorative Ironwork, V&A Publications, London, 1997
Collection
Accession Number
5990-1857

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record createdMay 31, 2000
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