A 200-year-old chandelier made for the summer palace of Jérôme Bonaparte, Napoleon’s brother and King of Westphalia from 1807 to 1813, has a new home. The chandelier, created by the German firm Werner & Mieth in 1810-1811, has been purchased by the Toledo Museum of Art for its collection.
The Spiral Chandelier is made of cast, chased and fire-gilded bronze armature hung with cut and polished glass pendants. Measuring 175 centimeters tall and 101 centimeters wide (roughly five-and-a-half feet tall by three-feet wide), it now is prominently displayed in Gallery 31 at the Museum.
Museum Director Brian Kennedy called the chandelier a perfect addition to a suite of galleries in the Museum’s west wing that display significant chandeliers.
“We have been looking for a Neoclassical chandelier for this purpose for quite some time. This chandelier is not only an excellent example, but also allows us to highlight well-thought-out designs reflecting the latest thinking in science and art of the period,” Kennedy said.
The top ring of the object has six spirals evenly spaced around its perimeter, densely hung with glass drops, which terminate in small suspended rings with glass drops. Curtains of faceted circular beads obscure the central spine, terminating in an opaque white glass receiver bowl. Each of six downward spiraling loops has a candle arm with a pair of candle sockets.
According to Jutta-Annette Page, curator of glass and decorative arts at the Museum, Werner & Mieth considered this chandelier the most beautiful they offered. Its design may be attributed to the archaeologist and theoretician Hans Christian Genelli (1763–1823), especially as it relates to a drawing in which he “dissects” the volute shapes of a classical Ionic column.
“The design is based on a logarithmic spiral that is moving downwards. The concept of an upside-down, hanging column is a remarkable one—the curling forms of the chandelier are particularly noticeable from below,” Page said.
The metal structure and most of the crystal pendants are from the period, which is rare. The white glass elements are recent replacements with a design based on photographs of a nearly identical chandelier commissioned for another of Jérôme Bonaparte’s German residences, which was destroyed during World War II.
Werner & Mieth, founded in 1792, was the most important Berlin manufacturer of hand-made luxury goods in gilded bronze for more than four decades. The new clients for Berlin luxury goods were mainly French, despite the politically difficult years of Napoleon I’s occupation of the German state of Prussia. Napoleon’s wife Josephine and other members of the Bonaparte family ordered numerous bronze and glass furnishings from Werner & Mieth during that time.
The Spiral Chandelier was delivered to Brunswig Castle but never installed because Jérôme Bonaparte abdicated as King of Westphalia in 1813. The castle became the property of the City of Brunswig, which sold the chandelier along with other castle furnishings in the mid-1930s to raise funds. A family in Hamburg purchased the chandelier and it was in the family’s hands until its recent acquisition by the Museum.
“This is an extremely special piece, and we’re delighted to have it as part of our collection,” Page said.