The important role that candlesticks played in 18th-century England is often overlooked today. While they functioned to provide candlelight, they also were symbols of social status, displaying their owner’s wealth (candles were expensive) and design taste. This pair is no exception. They represent an excellent example of the innovation and experimentation that took place during the second half of the 18th century in the production of candlesticks.
As with almost all English brass candlesticks of the 18th century, the pair is unmarked. They were cast in several pieces and then chased to add definition and contrast. The stems were cast in two halves, as new production techniques at this time allowed for the two sections to be cast separately and then fit together for a perfect connection so that the appearance would be of one piece. This was a distinctly English practice. The candlesticks were made so that they could be unscrewed for cleaning. Frequently, the two parts were brazed together, but this pair retains their original threading in excellent condition.
The 18th century was the most diverse period for brass candlestick shapes. The petal base on each candlestick is connected to a modified baluster stem. The bases’ undulating and shaped surfaces formed to catch light in a sparkling way, enhancing their effect both lit and unlit. The irregular outline of the petal shape is repeated in the knop on the stem and by the drip pan (bobeche) at the top, which also provides a play of light and reflects the rococo taste of their era. It was not till the mid-18th century that the prevalent baluster and column stems, brought over by the Huguenot silversmiths in the 1680s and 1690s, began to evolve into a variety of purely English types.
Prior to the mid-18th century, candlestick bases were generally either round or square. This pair’s petal-shaped bases represent a stronger tie to silver design than is usually present in brass sticks from this era. The overall craftsmanship and ornamentation of this pair compares favorably with the best examples cited in Eloy Koldeweij’s definitive work on English brass candlesticks, The English Candlestick, 1425–1925: 500 Years in the Development of Base-metal Candlesticks.
This would be the first example of 18th-century brass candlesticks in the museum’s collection. This proposed acquisition is also important in contextualizing the decorative arts of mid-18th century England, from the candlestick’s use as the primary source of light in the dining room to the furniture expressly designed to hold such objects in the drawing room and other areas of the house.
Cite this object as
Candlestick (England); brass; 2011-9-2-a,b