The word ‘chandelier’ is instantly synonymous with class; ornate hanging lights that are just as much decoration as they are light sources. Many of these ideas haven’t changed over the course of 500 years, despite major changes in chandeliers themselves.
Originating from the French word “chandelle,” chandelier literally means “candle holder,” and when the first appeared, that was about it.
The first known chandeliers came about during the 14th century and were a simple design: two wood beams forming a cross with a spike at the end of each to hold a candle. Though they were not as ornate as future designs, the element and ideas of class still applied. Outside of their main uses inside churches, abbeys and other large gathering places, their cost meant that only the wealthy could afford to own and maintain them.
Chandelier at Linderhof Castle
As materials and production techniques improved over time, so did the ornate nature of the chandelier. Ranging from the original wood to metal, crystal and glass, chandeliers quickly evolved into art and symbols of status – not only by their presence, but by their design and intricacy as well.
In the early 1800s, gas became the standard for lighting, which led to the creation of “gasoliers.” Though the designs and functions were the same, the immense difference between gas and standard candles at the time led to the new name (think ‘hybrids’ – they’re cars, but we still differentiate them from the rest). During this period many existing chandeliers were converted to use gas instead of candles, a trend that continued until the advent of electricity when once again many were updated.
Interestingly, as chandeliers have continued to grow in size and extravagance, illumination has in many cases become a secondary emphasis, though many modern lighting designs have returned to a “function over form” mentality.
Eric Palmer is a writer and designer residing in Denver, Colorado, he writes for many companies including Lighting Outlet Denver.