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Hanging Ornaments and Disguised Chandeliers
I saw this strange hanging object in a painting I saw at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco—I have no clue, yet, of what it is, however, I am sure after this post, we might hear from someone why this origami like object looms over this family group.
Seeing this mysterious element caused me to think about the role of hanging ornaments and chandeliers in interior design. Though we see them primarily today as a vehicle for spreading light, chandeliers are often essential in big rooms to bring the visual height of the space down and to suggest a human scale. As this painting suggested, the hanging object does not need to be a chandelier and other decorative ornaments can serve in their place equally.
In my own work, I have used hanging fixtures in such a way. I once used a mobile to great effect by suspending it over a Saarinen table in a breakfast room. At another location, the Rectory of a church I attend, St. Mary the Virgin in New York City, I hung a great un-electrified Gothic Revival chandelier embellished with Gothic crosses. The piece hung quite low so it had great presence and also served as the source for the motif that Chuck Hettinger, a decorative artist, painted on the walls of the room.
Interestingly, when I work on older American houses, I hesitate to use chandeliers because they were uncommon until relatively modern times with the advent of cheap sources of energy (whether electrical or gas driven). In early America, chandeliers were not always used in houses because candles were too expensive to display far way from where the light was needed, hence wall sconces and candle holders for placement on tables were more appropriate. The architecture and scale of those earlier rooms reflect the adaptations that designers had to make for this kind of low lighting.
Also at the Museum were two Dutch paintings by Jan Steen with chandelier type hangings disguised as big balls of foliage and flowers. Clearly, there are others that sometime prefer a room adorned with a ceiling decoration that is not a chandelier...
Images from top: Charles Robert Leslie, A Scene from "Vicar of Wakefield", Chapter XI, by Oliver Goldsmith, c. 1843, plus detail; Breakfast Room and Ford Plantation, Savannah, George, Right, Center Parlor of Rector, St. Mary the Virgin Church, New York City, decorated by Thomas Jayne; Jan Steen, The Marriage of Tobias and Sarah, c. 1673 (plus detail below it); Jan Steen, also titled The Marriage of Tobias and Sarah, c. 1668-70