Antique Lighting as we know it today consists of opulent chandeliers, elegant wall sconces, functional floor lamps and an endless array of table lamps, but how did these illuminating objects become such prominent, sometimes elegant parts of our lives? It was not until just a couple of hundred years ago that such extravagances began to take shape, developing into status symbols worthy of an interior design’s central focus.
Three sources of light ~ flames from the hearth, oil lanterns and somewhat later, candlelight ~ were the earliest sources of domestic lighting. From prehistoric times well into the Middle Ages, as nightfall began, humankind would huddle in front of the fireplace for warmth and illumination. In ancient homes the open fireplace was essential for both cooking and as a source of heat. At night it served yet another purpose as the primary source of light from the grand halls of chateaux to the humble family rooms of rustic farmhouses.
In this scenario the introduction of the oil lamp was a breakthrough. Here was a portable source of light that was easily replenished, and just as easily snuffed when no longer needed with just a puff of breath. The first oil lamps were crudely worked pottery when they first appeared around 70,000 BC. Over time they became an engaging medium for artistic expression and proud exhibition. Archeologists have found oil lamps of elaborate designs of in ancient Greece, Rome and Egypt.
Early candle making originated in China as early as 200 BC, but the expansion of the candle industry didn’t really begin until the waning years of the 17th century ~ with the invention of superior candle formulations, and later the invention of paraffin in 1830 which greatly improved the performance of the tapers.
The staggering expense of nighttime illumination made early chandeliers luxurious status symbols, first found in the palaces, churches, and homes of nobility and wealthy merchants. Candlelight started making its impact on interior design with the aesthetic use of lighting at this time. The French invented molded decorative candles; oftentimes the same merchants selling dipped and molded candles alongside fragrant soaps (another popular and famous French product) which required similar production techniques and equipment.
The burgeoning middle class demanded new designs for the sources of illumination and the industry answered with incredible creations. In future blog articles we will look closely into these treasured implements of illumination.