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What is the history behind chandelier?

Author: Marina

Mar. 07, 2024

80 0

Tags: Lights & Lighting

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.

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.

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Branched ornamental light fixture designed to be mounted on ceilings

A chandelier in Italy

A chandelier ( is an ornamental lighting device, typically with spreading branched supports for multiple lights, designed to be hung from the ceiling.[1][2] Chandeliers are often ornate, and they were originally designed to hold candles, but now incandescent light bulbs are commonly used,[3] as well as fluorescent lamps and LEDs.

A wide variety of materials ranging from wood and earthenware to silver and gold can be used to make chandelier; brass is one the most popular with Dutch and Flemish brass chandelier the best-known, but glass is the material most commonly associated with chandelier. True glass chandelier first developed in Italy, England, France, and Bohemia in the 18th century. Classic glass chandeliers have arrays of hanging "crystal" prisms to illuminate a room with refracted light. Contemporary chandeliers may assume a more minimalist design, and they may illuminate a room with direct light from the lamps or are equipped with translucent glass shades covering each lamp. Chandeliers produced nowadays can assume a wide variety of styles that span modernized and traditional designs or a combination of both.

Although chandeliers have been called candelabras, chandeliers can be distinguished from candelabras which are designed to stand on tables or the floor, while chandeliers are hung from the ceiling. They are also 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 few decorative elements. Due to their size, they are often installed in hallways, living rooms, staircases, lounges, and dining rooms. Small chandeliers can be installed in smaller spaces such as bedrooms or small living spaces, while large chandeliers are typically installed in the grand rooms of buildings such as halls and lobbies, or in religious buildings such as churches, synagogues or mosques.

Etymology

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A silver chandelier c. 1690 from Hampton Court Palace

The word chandelier was first known in the English language in the sense as used today in 1736, borrowed from the word in French that means a candleholder. It may have been derived from chandelle meaning "tallow candle", , or chandelabre in Old French and candēlābrum in Latin, and ultimately from candēla meaning "candle".[5][6] In the earlier periods, the term "candlestick", chandelier in France, may be used to refer to a candelabra, a hanging branched light, or a wall light or sconce. In English, "hanging candlesticks" or "branches" were used to mean lighting devices hanging from the ceiling until chandelier began to be used in the 18th century.[7]

In France, chandelier still means a candleholder, and what is called chandelier in English is lustre in French, a term first used in the late-17th century. Lustre can also be used in English to mean a chandelier, or the glass pendant used to decorate the chandelier.[9] The early use of words for indoor lighting devises can be confusing, and a number of terms like lustres, branches, and candelabra may be used interchangeably, which can make the early appearance of these words misleading. Girandole was also once used to refer to all candelabra as well as chandelier,[7] although girandole now usually means an ornate branched candleholder that may be mounted on a wall, often with a mirror.[10] Chandelier may sometimes be called suspended lights although not all suspended lights are necessarily chandeliers.

History

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Precursors

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A 6th century Byzantine polycandelon

Hanging lighting devices were known since ancient times, and circular ceramic lamps with multiple points for wicks or candles were used in the Roman period.[11][12] The Roman terms lychnuchus or lychnus, however, can refer to candlestick, floor lamps, candelabra, or chandelier. In the Byzantine period, flat circular metallic structures suspended with chains that can hold oil lamps known as polycandela (singular polycandelon) were commonly used throughout the eastern Mediterranean.[14][15] A development of late antiquity and further evolving during the early Middle Ages, polycandela were used in churches and synagogues, 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.[14][16] They may be hung between columns, over the altar or tombs of saints.

Chandeliers in Hagia Sophia, similar lighting devices may have been present in the Byzantine period

Huge hanging lamps in Hagia Sophia were described by Paul the Silentiary in 563:[18] "And beneath each chain he has caused to be fitted silver discs, hanging circle-wise in the air, round the space in the center of the church. Thus these discs, pendant from their lofty courses, form a coronet above the heads of men. They have been pierced too by the weapon of the skillful workman, in order that they may receive shafts of fire-wrought glass and hold light on high for men at night."[19] Polycandela were also commonly used to furnish households up until the 8th century.[20] 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 in the 12th–13th century.[21]

Early chandeliers

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The 11th century Hezilo chandelier

The earliest candle chandeliers were used in religious building in medieval times. These may be large circular wheel chandeliers or crown-shaped coronas recorded in Germany, France, and the Netherlands in the 11th and 12th century. The first of the wheel chandeliers to be made are the Azelin chandelier and Hezilo chandelier in Hildesheim Cathedral, another notable one is the Barbarossa Chandelier in the Aachen Cathedral.[22] These chandeliers have prickets (vertical spikes for holding candles) and cups for oil and wicks. A hammered iron corona with floral decorated was recorded in the St Paul's Cathedral in London in the 13th century. The iron chandeliers may have polychrome paint as well as jewel and enamelwork decorations.

Wooden cross-beam chandeliers were the early form of chandelier used in a domestic setting and they were found in the households of the wealthy in the medieval period. On each of the four arms a candle may be placed; some that can hold two candles in each arm were called "double candlestick". While simple in design compared to later chandeliers, such wooden chandeliers were still found in the court of Charles VI of France in the 15th century and a double candlestick was listed in the inventory of the estate of Henry VIII of England in the 16th century. Later gilded carved wood may be used to make chandelier.[7] In the medieval period, chandeliers may also be lighting devices that could be moved to different rooms.[24]

From the 15th century, more complex forms of chandeliers became popular decorative features in palaces and homes of nobility, clergy and merchants. Their high cost made chandeliers symbols of luxury and status, and they may be made of different material. Ivory chandeliers in the palace of the king of Mutapa, were depicted in a 17th century description by Olfert Dapper.[25]

Brass chandelier

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A variety of metals were used to make chandeliers, including iron, pewter, bronze, or more prestigiously silver and even gold. Brass, however, has the warm appearance of gold while being considerably cheaper, and also easy to work with, it therefore became a popular choice for making chandelier. Brass or brass-like latten were been used to make chandeliers since the medieval period, and many were made with brass-type alloy from Dinant (now in Belgium, brass ware from the town was known as dinanderie) until the mid-15th century. The metal chandeliers may have a central support with curved or S-shaped arms attached, and at the end of each arms is a drip-pan and nozzle for holding candle; by the 15h century, candle nozzles were used instead of prickets to hold the candles since candle production technique allowed for the production of identically sized candles. Many such brass chandeliers can be seen depicted in Dutch and Flemish paintings from the 15th to 17th centuries. These Dutch and Flemish chandeliers may be decorated with stylised floral embellishments as well as Gothic symbols and emblems and religious figures. Large number of brass chandeliers existed, but most of the early brass chandeliers did not survived destruction during the Reformation.

A Dutch brass chandelier with curved arms and a large sphere in the Portuguese Synagogue in Amsterdam

The Dutch brass chandeliers have distinctive features – a large brass sphere underneath a central stem and six curved low-swooping arms. The globe helps to keep the chandelier upright and reflect the lights from candle, and the arms are curved downward to bring the candles to the level of the sphere to allow for maximum reflection. The arms of early brass chandelier may also have drooped lower through use over time as the brass used in the earlier period was softer due to lower zinc content. The features of Dutch brass chandelier were widely copied in other countries, and this form is arguably the most successful and long-lasting of all types of chandeliers. Dutch brass were popular across Europe, particularly in England, as well as in the United States. Variations of the Dutch brass chandelier were produced, for example there may be multiple tiers of the arms, or the arms may emerge from the globe itself. 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.

Glass and crystal chandelier

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Chandeliers began to be decorated with carved rock crystal (quartz) of Italian origin in the 16th century, a highly expensive form. The rock crystal pieces were hung from a metal frame as pendants or drops. The metal frame of French chandeliers may have a central stem onto which arms are attached, later some may form a cage without a central stem. Few, however, could afford these rock crystal chandeliers as they were costly to produce. In the 17th century multi-faceted crystals that can reflect light from the candles were used to decorate chandelier and they were called chandeliers de crystal in France. The chandeliers produced in France in the 17th century were in the French Baroque style, and rococo in the 18th century. French rock crystal chandelier found its finest expression under Louis XIV, as exemplified by chandeliers at the Palace of Versailles.[35] Rock crystal began to be replaced by cut glass in the late 17th century. and examples of chandeliers made with rock crystal as well as Bohemian glass can be found in the Palace of Versailles.[36] Crystal chandeliers in the early period were literally made of crystals; glass, although not crystalline in structure, continued to be called crystal, after much clearer cut glass that resembled crystal was produced from the late 17th-century. What are called crystal chandeliers now are almost always made of cut glass. Quartz is nevertheless still more reflective than the best glass. Although France is believed to have produced lead glass in the late-17th century, France used imported glass for its chandeliers until the late 18th century when high quality glass was produced in the country.[38]

English glass chandelier in the Bath Assembly Rooms, by William Parker in 1771.[39]

In Britain, Lead glass was developed by George Ravenscroft c. 1675, which allowed for the production of cheaper lead crystal that resembles rock crystal without the crisseling defect of other glass. It is also relatively soft compared to soda glass, allowing it to be cut or faceted without shattering. Lead glass also rings when struck, unlike soda glass which has no resonance. The clearness and light scattering properties of lead glass made it a popular addition to the form, and conventionally, lead glass may be the only glass that can be described as crystal. The first mention of glass chandelier in an advertisement appeared in 1727 (as schandelier) in London. A notable producer of glass chandeliers was William Parker. The design of the first English true glass chandelier was influenced by Dutch and Flemish brass chandeliers. The chandeliers are largely made of glass, with the metal parts limited to the central stem and receiver plates and bowls. The metallic part may be silvered or silver-plated, and the silver-plating inside the glass stem can create the illusion that the chandelier is made entirely of glass. A glass bowl at the bottom disguises the metal disc onto which the glass arms are attached. The early glass chandeliers were moulded, often with solid rope-twist arms. Later cuts to the arms were introduced to provide sparkle, and additional ornaments added. Cut glass pendant drops were hung from the frame, initially only a small number, but in increasingly large number by c.1770. By the 1800s, the decorative ornaments became so abundant that the underlying structure of the chandelier was obscured. The chandeliers may follow a rococo style, and later neo-classical style, for example those designed by Robert and James Adam. Neoclassical motifs in cast metal but also in carved and gilded wood were common elements in these chandeliers. Chandeliers made in this style also drew heavily on the aesthetic of ancient Greece and Rome, incorporating clean lines, classical proportions and mythological creatures.[38]

Bohemia in present-day Czech Republic has been producing for centuries, and Bohemian glass contains potash that gives it a clear colourless appearance, Production of crystal chandeliers appeared in Bohemia and Germany, and many early chandeliers were copies of designs from London. 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. Glass chandelier became the dominant form of chandelier from about 1750 until at least 1900, and the Czech Republic remains the greatest producer of glass chandelier today.

Venice has been a centre of glass production, particularly on the island of Murano. The Venetians created a form of soda–lime glass by adding manganese dioxide that is clear like crystal, which they called cristallo. This glass was typically used to make mirrors, but around 1700, Italian glass factories in Murano started creating new kinds of artistic chandeliers. Since Murano glass is hard and brittle, it is not suitable for cutting/faceting; however, it is lighter, softer and more malleable when heated, and Venetian glassmakers relied upon the properties of their glass to create elaborate forms of chandelier. 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. Great skill and time was required to twist and shape a chandelier precisely.

The ornate type of murano chandelier is 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. Huge Murano chandeliers were often used for interior lighting in theatres and rooms in important palaces.[44] Despite periods of decline and revival, designs of Murano glass chandeliers have stayed relatively constant through time, and modern productions of these chandelier may still be stylistically nearly identical to those made in the 18th or 19th centuries.

19th century

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A 19th century French chandelier

The 19th century was a period of great changes and development; the industrial revolution and the growth of wealth from the industries greatly increased the market for chandeliers, new methods of lighting and better techniques of production emerged, and countries such as the United States also became significant producers of chandeliers. New styles and more complex and elaborate chandeliers also appeared. The market for chandelier increased greatly in the 19th century, and chandelier reached a peak of production. France, which only produced its own high-quality glass in the late 18th century, became renown as a producer of the finest quality of chandelier. One of the best-known manufacturers Baccarat was founded and it started making chandeliers in 1824. In England, Perry & Co. produced a large quantity of chandeliers, while F. & C. Osler was known for producing spectacular chandeliers, the great proportion of which went to India, the richest market for chandeliers at that time.

A Regency-style chandelier with a tent and bag design

In England, the imposition of the Glass Excise Act led to a new style of chandelier created. Chandelier makers, in order to avoid paying the tax, reused broken glass pieces cut into crystal icicles and strung together, and hung from circular frames in the form of tent or canopy above a hoop, with a bag below and/or tiered sheets that resembled waterfalls. A large number of crystals are used to make such chandelier, and many may contain over 1,000 pieces of crystals. The central stem is hidden by the crystals. These forms of Regency-era chandeliers were popular all over Europe. In France, chandeliers of similar designs are described as Empire style. After the Glass Excise Act was repealed, chandeliers with glass arms became popular again, but they became larger, bolder and heavily decorated. The largest English chandelier in the world (by Hancock Rixon & Dunt and probably F. & C. Osler) is in the Dolmabahçe Palace in Istanbul, and it has 750 lamps and weighs 4.5 tons.[46]

Chanderliers in the Banqueting Room of Royal Pavilion were lit by gas

In the 19th century, a variety of different method of new methods for producing light that are brighter, cleaner or more convenient than candles began to be used. These included colza oil (Argand lamp), kerosene/paraffin, and gas. Due to its brightness, gas was initially only used for public lighting, later it also appeared in homes. As gas lighting caught on, branched ceiling fixtures called gasoliers (a portmanteau of gas and chandelier) were produced. Many candle chandeliers were converted. Gasoliers may have only slight variations in the decorations from chandeliers, but the arms were hollow to carry the gas to the burners. Examples of gasoliers were the extravagant chandeliers installed in the Royal Pavilion in Brighton in 1821. While popular, gas lighting was considered too bright and harsh on the eyes, and lacking the pleasing quality of candlelight. Shades that surround the gas light were then added to reduce the glare. Gas lighting was eventually replaced by electric light bulbs in the early 20th century.

A late-19th century electrolier in Glasgow

Electric light began to be introduced widely in the late 19th century. For a time, some chandeliers used both gas and electricity, with gas nozzles pointing upward while the light bulbs hung downward. 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 still called chandeliers even though no candles are used. Glass chandeliers requires electrical wirings, large areas of metals and light bulbs, but the results are often were not aesthetically pleasing. A large number of light bulbs close together can also produce too much glare. Shades may also be used for the bulbs of these electroliers.

Modern chandeliers

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At the turn of the 20th century, chandelier still enjoyed the status it had the previous century. Of the many lighting fixtures made that conformed to the popular contemporary styles of Art Nouveau, Art Deco and Modernism, few could be described properly as chandeliers. The popularity of chandelier declined in the 20th century. A vast array of lighting choices became available, and chandeliers often do not fit the aesthetics of modern architecture and interior design. Light fittings of avant-garde form and material however started to be made c. 1940. A wide variety of chandelier of modern design appeared, ranging from the minimalist to the highly extravagant. Towards the end of the 20th century, the popularity of chandelier revived. A number of glass artists such as Dale Chihuly who produced chandeliers emerged. Chandeliers were often used as decorative focal points for rooms, although some do not necessarily illuminate.

Incandescent light bulbs became the most common source of lighting for modern chandeliers in the 20th century, and a variety of electrical lights such as fluorescent light, halogen. LED lamp are also used. Many antique chandeliers not designed for electrical wiring have also been adapted for electricity. Modern chandelier produced in older styles and antique chandeliers wired for electricity usually use imitation candles, where incandescent or LED light bulbs are shaped like candle flames. These light bulbs may be dimmable to adjust the brightness. Some may use bulbs containing a shimmering gas discharge.[55]

Chandeliers around the world

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The biggest chandeliers in the world are now found in the Islamic countries. The chandelier in the prayer hall in the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque in Muscat, Oman. was the biggest when it was installed in 2001. It is 14 m (45 ft) high, has a diameter of 8 m (26 ft), and weighs over eight tonnes (8,000 kg). It is lit by over 1,122 halogen lamps and contains 600,000 pieces of crystals.[56][57] In 2010, a chandelier of modern design was installed in foyer of an office building in Doha, Qatar. This chandelier has a height of 5.8 m (19 ft), width of 12 m (41 ft),length of 38 m (126 ft), and weighing 39,683 pounds (18 tonnes). It has 165,000 LED lights and 2,300 optical crystals and it is considered the biggest interactive LED chandelier.[58] In 2022, a chandelier with a dimension of 47.7 m (156 ft) in height, 29.2 m (96 ft) in length and 28.3 m (93 ft) in width and weighing at 16 tonnes was unveiled at the Assima Mall in Kuwait.[59] In Egypt, the heaviest chandelier, made by Asfour Crystal, at 24,300kg (53,572lb) with a diameter of 22m (72.2ft) in four levels was built in the Grand Mosque of the Islamic Cultural Center in Cairo.[60][61]

The chandelier in Süleymaniye Mosque

Glossary of terms

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Adam style
A Neoclassical style, light, airy and elegant chandelier – usually English.
Arms of a chandelier
Arm
The light-bearing part of a chandelier also sometimes known as a branch.
Arm plate
The metal or wooden block placed on the stem, into which the arms slot.
Bag
A bag of crystal drops formed by strings hanging from a circular frame and looped back into the center underneath, associated especially with early American crystal and Regency style crystal chandeliers.
Baluster
A turned wood or moulded stem forming the axis of a chandelier, with alternating narrow and bulbous parts of varying widths.
Bead
A glass drop with a hole drilled right through.
Bobèche
A dish fitted just below the candle nozzle, designed to catch drips of wax. Also known as a drip pan.
Branch
Another name for the light-bearing part of a chandelier, also known as an arm.
Cage chandelier
Cage
An arrangement where the central stem supporting arms and decorations is replaced by a metal structure leaving the centre clear for candles and further embellishments. Also "bird cage".
Candlebeam
A cross made from two wooden beams with one or more cups and prickets at each end for securing candles.
Candle nozzle
The small cup into which the end of the candle is slotted.
Canopy
An inverted shallow dish at the top of a chandelier from which festoons of beads are often suspended, lending a flourish to the top of the fitting.
Corona
Another term for crown-style chandelier.
Crown
A circular chandelier reminiscent of a crown, usually of gilded metal or brass, and often with upstanding decorative elements.
Crystal
Essentially a traditional marketing term for lead glass with a chemical content that gives it special qualities of clarity, resonance and softness, making it especially suitable for use in cut glass. Some chandeliers, as at the Palace of Versailles are actually made of cut rock crystal (clear quartz), which cut glass essentially imitates.
Drip pan
The dish fitted just below the candle nozzle, designed to catch drips of wax. Know also as a bobèche.
Drops and pendants in chandelier
Drop
A small piece of glass usually cut into one of many shapes and drilled at one end so that it can be hung from the chandelier as a pendant with a brass pin. A chain drop is drilled at both ends so that a series can be hung together to form a necklace or festoon.
Dutch
Also known as Flemish, a style of brass chandelier with a bulbous baluster and arms curving down around a low hung ball.
Festoon
An arrangement of glass drops or beads draped and hung across or down a glass chandelier, or sometimes a piece of solid glass shaped into a swag. Also known as a garland.
Finial
The final flourish at the very bottom of the stem. Some Venetian glass chandeliers have little finials hanging from glass rings on the arms.
Hoop
A circular metal support for arms, usually on a regency-styles or other chandelier with glass pieces. Also known as a ring.
Montgolfière chandelier
Chandelier with a rounded bottom, like an inverted hot air balloon, named after the Montgolfier brothers, the early French balloonists.[

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Moulded
The process by which a pressed glass piece is shaped by being blown into a mould.
Neo-classical style chandelier
Neoclassical style chandelier
Glass chandelier featuring many delicate arms, spires and strings of ovals rhomboids or octagons.
Panikadilo
Gothic candelabrum chandelier hung from centres of Greek Orthodox cathedrals' domes.
Prism
A straight, many-sided drop.
Regency style chandelier
A larger chandelier with a multitude of drops. Above a hoop, rises strings of beads that diminish in size and attach at the top to form a canopy. A bag, with concentric rings of pointed glass, forms a waterfall beneath. The stem is usually completely hidden.
Soda glass
A type of glass used typically in Venetian glass chandeliers. Soda glass remains "plastic" for longer when heated, and can therefore be shaped into elegant curving leaves and flowers. Refracts light poorly and is normally fire polished.
Tent (upper) and waterfall (lower) arrangement of crystals
Spire
A tall spike of glass, round in section or flat sided. To which arms and decorative elements may be attached, made from wood, metal or glass.
Tent
A tent-shaped structure on the upper part of a glass chandelier where necklaces of drops attach at the top to a canopy and at the bottom to a larger ring.
Venetian
A glass from the island of Murano, Venice but usually used to describe any chandelier in Venetian style.
Waterfall or wedding cake
Concentric rings of icicle drops suspended beneath the hoop or plate.

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References

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