What is a Candelabra?
The definition of candelabra is a pair or set of candlesticks with multiple arms which are used to hold candles, or – more contemporarily - electric lights. The term ‘candelabrum’ refers to a single candlestick with many arms, as a single item from a set of candelabra, although contemporarily the term ‘candelabras’ is often incorrectly used to describe plural candelabra.
The origin of the word ‘candelabrum’ is a Latin term which translates to literally to candle-tree. This is due to the many branches or arms of the candelabrum, resembling that of a tree spreading it’s branches in all directions.
The practical reasoning behind the candelabra developing from the candlestick is that before the advent of electric light, often one would need more than one candle to provide enough light to read or write by. Thus, originally the candelabrum was to have a central supporting column fitted with a socket to hold two, three, four, and occasionally more, branches. If so desired, the branches could be removed, and the column used as a candlestick.
From the initial requirement for more light that the candelabra satisfied, the size and spectacle of the candelabra led it to be a desirable household object d’art, which was displayed prominently in the home. The realisation that candelabra provided a great deal more light and simultaneously displayed one’s wealth lead to the height of the candelabra’s popularity in the 1800s, when silver candelabra became de rigueur at the evening dinner table, providing both illumination and decoration for the substantial end of day meal, while being the perfect height for the seated guests to continue conversation across the table.
The History of the Candelabra
The candle has been around as early as 3000 BC and since then, displaying light has become a necessity. Candleholders (or candelabras) made of clay have been found dating back to 400 BC.
Candelabras can be made of any material, including silver, gold, brass, copper, iron or crystal. Although it is understood candelabra were used during the Middles Ages (400 –1400 AD), the earliest existing artefacts and records of these pieces date from the 1600’s and provide examples of candlesticks and candelabra.
In the 1800’s, silver candelabra became de rigueur at the evening dinner table, providing both illumination and decoration for the substantial, end of day meal.
The demise of the candelabra, along with candlesticks, came with the invention of the light bulb in the 1870’s.
Types of Candelabra
The obvious difference between candelabra are the amount of lights or ‘arms’ that each candelabrum has. This varies anywhere between two to eight lights and there are even more grandiose examples with greater numbers than this, however these are incredibly rare and due to their size are more likely to be found in royal estates or national museums. Usually, owing to the weight needed to stabilise so many arms, those with a greater number of arms are far taller with much wider bases.
The types and styles of candelabra are usually differentiated by the age or era they were created in, and the country or area they originated from; which will therefore determine the prevailing fashion for silverware which the piece was created in. Frequently, larger antique silver candelabra are found in heavily decorated and ornamented Rococo and Baroque styles, and this is due to the nature of the taste of the owners, who were likely to have larger, more grand homes and favour this type of ornate design - whereas antique candelabra under 30 inches and created within England will generally feature a more subtle, refined design.
There are many Georgian reproduction candelabra which were made during the 1900s, during a resurgence in popularity of what is considered to be the traditional, classical style, with fine detailing but which still fits comfortably into a modern home and alongside contemporary décor.
The earliest Georgian style – George I - is fairly simplistic, with George II style candelabra becoming more heavily embellished and decorated, and graduating on to George III style which is more grandiose and extravagant, for those who enjoy the more heavily ornamented style of silverware.
The other major difference between the styles which prevailed during the Georgian era is that at the beginning of the reign of George I, more angular, linear forms were followed, with creation based more in practicality rather than on the candelabra as decoration. Gradually, throughout the Georgian era candelabra became likely to feature flowing curves and twists within the design.
This evolution of style was dependent on the silversmiths’ ability to produce these finely crafted pieces, and therefore the more decoration on an item the more skill the maker could demonstrate.
A Menorah, a specific seven-branched candelabrum is one of the oldest symbols of Jewish faith. This is one of the oldest examples of the candelabra and has a precise shape to it that distinguishes it from other candelabra; a menorah’s arms or lights are all in one straight formation, rather than being spread around the circumference of the central column.
Candelabra have become synonymous with good taste, and historically were associated with especially opulent homes. Typically, most buyers are looking for candelabra to bring an air of grandeur and spectacle to their home; however we have many examples of classic, subtle candelabra which suit much more modern, minimalist décor.