A chandelier (/ˌʃændəˈlɪər/; also known as girandole, candelabra lamp, or least commonly suspended lights) is a branched ornamental light fixture designed to be mounted on ceilings or walls. Chandeliers are often ornate, and normally use incandescent light bulbs, though some modern designs also use fluorescent lamps and recently LEDs.
Classic chandeliers have arrays of hanging crystal prisms to illuminate a room with refracted light, while contemporary chandeliers assume a more minimalist design that does not contain prisms and illuminate a room with direct light from the lamps, sometimes also equipped with translucent glass covering each lamp. Modern chandeliers have a more modernized design that uses LEDs, and combines the elements of both classic and contemporary designs; some are also equipped with refractive crystal prisms or small mirrors.
Chandeliers are distinct from pendant lights, as they usually consist of multiple lamps and hang in branched frames, whereas pendant lights hang from a single cord and only contain one or two lamps with fewer decorative elements. Due to their size, they are often installed in hallways, living rooms, staircases, lounges, and dining rooms. However, miniature chandeliers also exist, which can be installed in smaller spaces such as bedrooms or small living spaces. The most typical places for larger chandeliers are churches or cathedrals.
Chandeliers evolved from candelabra and were invented during the medieval period. They originally used candles as their source of light, which remained in use until the 18th century, when gas lights, later superseded by electric lights, were invented.
The word chandelier was first known in the English language in the 1736, borrowed from the Modern French word chandelle meaning candle, which comes from the Latin candēla.
Chandeliers holding oil lamps were used in the Byzantine period, known as polycandela (singular polycandelon). A later variation of the polycandelon took the shape of a lamp stand, placed on legs rather than hung by chains, some being known from the Seljuq realm and functioning as a prototype for the European chandelier, such as this example from the 12th-13th century. A development of late antiquity and further evolving during the early Middle Ages, polycandela were used in places such as churches, synagogues, and aristocratic households and took the shape of a bronze or iron frame holding a varying number of globular or conical glass beakers provided with a wick and filled with oil.
The earliest candle chandeliers were used by the wealthy in medieval times; this type of chandelier could be moved to different rooms. From the 15th century, more complex forms of chandeliers, based on ring or crown designs, became popular decorative features in palaces and homes of nobility, clergy and merchants. Their high cost made chandeliers symbols of luxury and status. Ivory chandeliers in the palace of the king of Mutapa, were depicted in a 17th century description by Olfert Dapper.
By the early 18th century, ornate cast ormolu forms with long, curved arms and many candles were in the homes of many in the growing merchant class. Neoclassical motifs became an increasingly common element, mostly in cast metals but also in carved and gilded wood. Chandeliers made in this style also drew heavily on the aesthetic of ancient Greece and Rome, incorporating clean lines, classical proportions and mythological creatures. Developments in glassmaking later allowed cheaper production of lead crystal, the light scattering properties of which quickly made it a popular addition to the form, leading to the cut glass chandelier, which was dominant from about 1750 until at least 1900.
During the 18th century, glass chandeliers were produced by Bohemians and Venetian glassmakers who were both masters in the art of making chandeliers. Bohemian style was largely successful across Europe and its biggest draw was the chance to obtain spectacular light refraction due to facets and bevels of crystal prisms.
As a reaction to this new taste, Italian glass factories in Murano created new kinds of artistic light sources. Since Murano glass was not suitable for faceting, typical work realized at the time in other countries where crystal was used, Venetian glassmakers relied upon the unique qualities of their glass. Typical features of a Murano chandelier are the intricate arabesques of leaves, flowers and fruits that would be enriched by coloured glass, made possible by the specific type of glass used in Murano. The soda glass (famed for its clarity) that they worked with was unique and contrasted with other types of glass produced in the world at that time. Great skill and time was required to twist and shape a chandelier precisely.
This new type of chandelier was called ciocca (literally "bouquet of flowers"), for the characteristic decorations of glazed polychrome flowers. The most sumptuous consisted of a metal frame covered with small elements in blown glass, transparent or colored, with decorations of flowers, fruits and leaves, while simpler models had arms made with unique pieces of glass. Their shape was inspired by an original architectural concept: the space on the inside is left almost empty, since decorations are spread all around the central support, distanced from it by the length of the arms. One of the common uses of the huge Murano chandeliers was the interior lighting of theatres and rooms in important palaces.
In the mid-19th century, as gas lighting caught on, branched ceiling fixtures called gasoliers (a portmanteau of gas and chandelier) were produced, and many candle chandeliers were converted. By the 1890s, with the appearance of electric light, some chandeliers used both gas and electricity. As distribution of electricity widened, and supplies became dependable, electric-only chandeliers became standard. Another portmanteau word, electrolier, was coined for these, but nowadays they are most commonly called chandeliers. Some are fitted with bulbs shaped to imitate candle flames, for example those shown below in Epsom and Chatsworth, or with bulbs containing a shimmering gas discharge.
The world's largest English chandelier (by Hancock Rixon & Dunt and probably F. & C. Osler) is in the Dolmabahçe Palace in Istanbul. It has 750 lamps and weighs 4.5 tons. Dolmabahçe has the largest collection of British and Baccarat crystal chandeliers in the world, and one of the great staircases has balusters of Baccarat crystal.
More complex and elaborate chandeliers continued to be developed throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, but the widespread introduction of gas and electricity had devalued the chandelier's appeal as a status symbol.
Toward the end of the 20th century, chandeliers were often used as decorative focal points for rooms, and often did not illuminate.