Let There Be Light: The History of Lighting Implements from Ancient Times to the 20th Century from the New Orleans Museum of Art Opens with Membership Gala Nov. 13 at Meadows Museum, Centenary
SHREVEPORT, LA — Let There Be Light: The History of Lighting Implements from Ancient Times to the 20th Century from the New Orleans Museum of Art opens with a special membership gala Nov. 13, from 5:30 to 8 p.m. in the downstairs gallery of the Meadows Museum of Art at Centenary College.
The exhibition will be on view for the general public through Jan. 30, and features approximately two and one-half millennia of lighting devices. Organized for travel by John Webster Keefe, the RosaMary curator of decorative arts from the New Orleans Museum of Art, this exhibition and special decorations throughout the museum promise to delight and engage visitors of all ages during the 2004-05 holiday season.
Although the New Orleans Museum of Art has never systematically collected lighting devices per se, the permanent collection includes noteworthy lamps from the classical world, candlesticks and candelabra that reflect the importance of interior light to civilization. Their importance is clearly seen in the Egyptian worship of the sun and the ancient world’s Apollo, the sun god. Jews celebrated Hanukkah as the Festival of Lights, and early Christians referred to Jesus as “The Light of the World.” Similarly, a lamp came to symbolize divine light and wisdom in Christian iconography. The same concept held true of the Islamic world in which mosque interiors were embellished with elaborate pendant lamps in enamel and parcel-gilt glass.
Once man developed the ability to control fire, it could be utilized at a specific site such as a cave interior. Torches or brands could be lit from such a fire for further illumination. It was then a logical step to discover that animal fats and flammable oils could be rendered and burnt by utilizing an absorbent wick placed in a shallow pan or bowl. Such devices were used for centuries.
An improved lamp involved the creation of an enclosed clay or terracotta vessel into which a wick could be inserted. The earliest lamp in the collection of the New Orleans Museum of Art is this type and is dated the third century B.C. This form eliminated some of the problematic smoke and afforded a more focused light, eventually becoming the standard of the ancient world. From this improved model came the development centuries later of a relatively tall candle of wax with a central wick. Such an implement provided desirable additional height, burned more brightly and threw off less smoke.
Following an innate human desire for ornament, candle holders were crafted in a variety of media from tin to silver and gold and were ornamented according to the stylistic dictates of their particular era. By the early 18th Century, innovators placed candles in bronze or brass armatures suspended from the ceiling and decorated with glistening rock crystal or glass drops that reflected and increased the light of the multiple candles in such chandeliers. Such expensive chandeliers and candelabra were intended for royal and aristocratic residences; the laboring classes still used wicks floating in shallow bowls. Possessions of the brightly burning wax candle became a universal symbol of status during the 18th Century, and the number of such candles in a house was seen as an indicator of one’s socioeconomic position…or the lack thereof.
There can be little doubt that the 19th Century was one of the most innovative in the history of mankind. Art and technology progressed hand-in-hand as a newly dominant affluent middle class sought to live with objects that had previously been restricted to the aristocracy. Advancing science and technology lead to the development of a wide variety of new lighting devices---Argand, sonumbra and parcel lamps were all inventions of the 19th century. The flammable fluids used in lamps became more refined as scientific knowledge increased so that whale oil replaced burning tallow and was itself superceded by kerosene as a fuel.
Let There Be Light features more than 50 of these functional yet decorative objects that throughout the years have been produced by man’s unending quest for the most beautiful and functional interior lighting device.
Let There Be Light! Calendar of Events
Sunday, Nov. 21
Sunday, Nov. 28
Sunday, Dec. 5
Sunday, Jan. 16, 2005
Sunday, Jan. 23, 2005
The Meadows Museum of Art is located on the campus of
Centenary College of Louisiana at 2911 Centenary Boulevard in Shreveport.
The Museum is open from noon to 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday;
from noon to 5 p.m. on Thursday; and from 1 to 4 p.m. on weekends. The
Museum is closed on Monday. The Museum is free of charge. To receive a
2004-2005 Exhibition and Program Guide, call the Museum at 318-869-5040.
To schedule a group tour, call the Museum Education Department at 318-841-7271
The Museum receives general operating support from the Shreveport Regional Arts Council with funds from the City of Shreveport. The Museum receives annual support from the Friends of the Algur Meadows Museum. The Museum seeks and receives funding and support from both public and private foundations and other sources on a project-by-project basis.
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