Chandeliers are the most ornate ceiling-mounted light fixtures that produce much light. Their long and rich history in various European countries is just beginning to receive thorough research attention. In the course of centuries, the forms and décor of chandeliers sensitively and expressively reacted to constant changes in European culture. As a result, several main types were formed, which are divided by researchers into melusines (German Lüsterweibchen), ring/crown-shaped, one shaft/baluster, frame and dish-light chandeliers. Before the beginning of the 18th century, chandeliers were mainly produced from brass, iron, wood and horn. In the late 16th century, chandelier frames began to be decorated with rock crystal strings and pendants. From 1700, chandeliers were produced from glass, man-made crystal, and somewhat later, porcelain, papier-mâché and other materials. The variety of materials gave the manufacturers freedom and diversity of forms, but before the invention of the electric bulb, the source of light in chandeliers came from candles, which always had to be directed upright. With the invention of electricity, there remained almost no restrictions for chandelier forms.
In the rich history of light fixtures, chandeliers from the 16th to the first half of the 20th century that survived in Lithuania occupy an important place. The aim of this project is to present them. It is important to add that many chandeliers that decorated or still decorate Lithuanian buildings were brought from other European countries. Local attribution can be given only to a small part of these artefacts. However, this fact does not lessen their importance. Like other artefacts reflecting material culture, chandeliers vividly illustrate the history of Lithuania’s artistic import.
At the end of 2017, the first stage of the project “Heritage of Chandeliers in Lithuania” was launched. It is focused on the most valuable historical chandeliers of the Vilnius region. New data presented here have been mostly discovered by the author of the project during the last seven years of research on historical chandeliers.
Selection of chandeliers
Due to the turbulent history of the Lithuanian state, only a small part of chandeliers have reached our times. Many of them are no longer found in their original places, thus chandeliers of high artistic value from the interiors of sacral and secular buildings, which are currently held in Lithuanian museums and are included or not yet included in the register of cultural heritage of the Republic of Lithuania, are analysed in this database. Chandeliers held in private interiors or private collections are hardly accessible and have been excluded from the catalogue. Chandeliers that had extraordinary artistic and historical value, but considerably deteriorated or did not survive, and have been recorded in visual material, are presented separately. Only the artefacts manufactured by professional masters are analysed, while ethnographic wooden specimens that were hung in rich peasants’ homes and special chandeliers used for bridal showers are not considered. The significantly deteriorated chandeliers held in museums are currently not included either – they will supplement the database in the future, after their restoration.
The chronological limits of the database include the period from the 17th century to the 1930s. This choice was determined by the survival of the earliest artefacts that have reached our days were manufactured in the Renaissance era and are dated to the late 16th century. The latest light fixtures analysed in the catalogue date to the interwar period. During World War II, several large metallurgical centres in Europe were destroyed, factories that manufactured chandeliers were closed, and their equipment was taken away or used for the war needs. This process took place in Lithuania as well, where the companies that manufactured chandeliers in the early 20th century and in the interwar period, even in small quantities, ceased their activity at that time. In the future, we intend to supplement the catalogue with descriptions of exceptional chandeliers created from the second half of the 20th to the early 21st century.
Each entry of the database includes professional photos of chandeliers made in 2017, data about the time, place, materials and techniques of production of the chandelier(s), and a detailed description of the artefact. A brief overview of the features of pendant chandeliers of a respective period is given, the type of a particular chandelier is defined, and its visual features are analysed. Whenever possible, data on historical images, written sources related to the artefact, information about the conducted restoration works, lost parts as well as known analogues in Lithuania or foreign countries are presented. The description ends with conclusions about the value and the extraordinariness of the artefact in the general context of Lithuanian and European chandeliers.