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Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Whenever I go to an art museum or well-researched house museum, I love to look at the period rooms. What better way to immerse yourself in the culture and decor of years past? To me, the idea behind it is very similar to the room boxes and dollhouse miniatures I like to work with. 

While I admire the furniture, fabrics, and architectural details, I’d have to say that the lighting in these rooms is consistently my favorite. Show me some ormolu and prisms and I’ll be happy.  

I bought this mid-nineteenth century girandole at a second-hand shop. The research process for it has been rather tedious. Conflicting sources say that it was made by Henry N. Hooper & Company of Boston, Cornelius & Company of Philadelphia, and by an unknown company in New York. With so many opinions, I don’t know who made it. I suspect it wasn’t Cornelius & Company though, because many of their girandoles were marked. Mine is unmarked. I do know that originally this piece was part of a trio, which included another identical girandole and a larger candelabra.  

Oftentimes when I see this girandole up for sale, sellers refer to the figure as a sultan. In the book Nineteenth Century Lighting, H. Parrott Bacot agrees that it is a sultan model. He believes, however, that the figure is wearing a romanticized opera costume. That was the first thought that popped into my head as well, but I also think the figure could reference “Aladdin’s Wonderful Lamp” – a Middle Eastern folktale added to One Thousand and One Nights (Arabian Nights) by Antoine Galland.

The sultan stands regally with a genie lamp on the table and a sword that looks like a Persian scimitar. The girandole is certainly evidence of Victorian interest in the “exotic.”

“New Crowns for Old Ones!” Punch cartoon, 1876. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

When my girandole was new, it was covered with ormolu. Through the years, someone made the poor choice to polish it. Now, all of the ormolu is gone and the bronze bears a mottled blueish discoloration. It seems that the same culprit who polished the girandole also tried to turn it into an electric lamp. In the process, the foliate bobeche and prisms were removed. Even worse, a hole was drilled into the back of the candle holder to make room for a switch. After all that destruction, it seems that the lamp idea didn’t work out. The poor girandole was a hacked-up skeleton when I purchased it.

I did my best to give it a sense of grandeur again. I placed a crystal bobeche into the candle holder and hung five c. 1850s prisms from it. The original prisms were probably coffin-shaped. My replacement prisms are spear-tipped. Bacot calls this type of prism “improper” for such a fixture, but I think it works well enough for mine. The girandole looks nothing like it did originally, but at least it’s got a sense of dignity again.

As I said before, I can’t be sure who made the girandole. Nevertheless, I have a favorite lighting manufacturer: Henry N. Hooper.

Henry Northey Hooper was known for producing decorative lighting, chimes, and church bells. Upon the start of the Civil War, he turned his attention to artillery like the Napoleon cannon. 

Hooper was one of the most prestigious in the business. He was even commissioned to create a massive 7,500 pound chandelier for the House of Representatives. The piece was installed in December of 1840. Due to a faulty chain, it came crashing down to the floor the next day while a cleaning crew worked on it. Luckily, the House was not in session and no one was killed. 

Jeffersonian Republican. December 25, 1840.

Well, that does it for this post. Until next time!