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Pedestal and Candelabrum

On view

Pedestal and Candelabrum

Maker: Maker unknown (France)

Date: 1825-1835
Medium: Mahogany, rosewood, yellow-poplar, gilding, paint; candelabrum: Gilt and patinated brass
Overall: 76 3/4 x 16 1/2 x 14 3/8in. (194.9 x 41.9 x 36.5cm)
Credit Line: Museum Purchase
Object number: 60.58
Label Text
Pedestals were used in ancient Greece and Rome to support vases and figures. In stylish European rooms during and after the Renaissance, pedestals became increasingly visible; they typically held clocks, busts, vases of flowers, and cases for eating implements. By the early nineteenth century, pedestals holding lighting devices were fairly commonplace in fashionable Continental and English houses, but that use remained rare in American interiors until after mid-century.

This example, probably one of a pair originally, is in the classical style, making it consistent with the few other documented pedestals of the same date. Features that descend from ancient designs include the triangular base with stenciled decoration, carved acanthus leaf borders, reeded column, and carved palmettes with painted highlights.

Text Entries

Pedestals were used in ancient Greece and Rome to support vases and figures and became increasingly visible in stylish European rooms during and after the Renaissance, when they typically held clocks, busts, vases of flowers, and cases for eating implements.(1) By the nineteenth century, pedestals had evolved to serve an additional purpose. In 1818 prolific English social commentator Rudolph Ackermann noted that “the pedestal is designed to correspond in style and material [with other furniture in a room], and is suited to bear a group of figures in bronze or ormolu, terminated by branches for lights. These are properly placed in the angles of large rooms, that will otherwise be gloomy.”(2)

The seven-armed candelabrum atop this pedestal appears to be unmarked, but most likely it is of French origin. Made of brass, its finish is primarily gilded with the balance patinated to simulate antique bronze. It was probably manufactured between 1800 and 1830 and, like many French and English lighting devices, was undoubtedly imported into the United States when newly made. The pedestal gives every appearance of having been made specifically to support the candelabrum.

Pedestals for lighting devices were fairly common-place in fashionable continental European and English houses by the early nineteenth century, but they remained rare in American interiors until after midcentury. This example, probably originally one of a pair, is in the classical revival style, as are the few other documented pedestals of the same date.(3) Features that spring from ancient designs include the triangular base with stenciled decoration, carved borders of acanthus leaves, a reeded column, and carved palmettes with painted highlights.

Greek and Roman motifs found their way into American cabinetmakers’ and chairmakers’ shops via European design books, increasing numbers of which were published during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Among the more popular volumes that included designs for pedestals were Thomas Hope’s Household Furniture and Interior Decoration (1807) and George Smith’s Collection of Designs for Household Furniture and Interior Decoration (1808). Books like these were intended for furniture makers and were readily available in subscription libraries such as the Library Company of Philadelphia.(4)

The form, materials, and ornamental treatments of this pedestal correlate with a small group of furniture assignable to Philadelphia cabinetmakers. Lewis Redner, who worked between 1829 and 1838, placed his name on an upright piano case that is strikingly similar to the MWPI pedestal.(5) Entirely veneered in rosewood, the piano case is embellished with gold stenciled motifs that correspond to the stenciled composite image repeated on the three sides of the base of the MWPI pedestal. The two front supports, carved in the form of monopod eagles, are antiqued with verd and gold in the same manner as the reeded columnar section of this pedestal.

Another Philadelphia cabinetmaker, Isaac Jones (active 1818-40), made a large bedroom suite that also closely relates to the MWPI pedestal.(6) Made for wealthy wine and liquor merchant Elijah Vansyckel (d. 1855) and his wife Sarah (d. 1872) about 1833, the suite was designed for their house at 187 Mulberry Street in Philadelphia and passed through four generations of Vansyckel descendants until it was sold in the 1980s.(7) Like the Redner piano case, the Jones bedroom suite is veneered in rosewood. Its carved components and moldings are detailed in gold that shades to verd, and its flat surfaces are embellished with a large number of gold-stenciled designs. Many parts of the repeated stenciled motifs—pineapples, scrolls, acanthus-decorated volutes, and palmettes—appear to be identical with those on the MWPI pedestal. The 1855 inventory of the Vansyckel’s house itemizes the bedroom suite and lists both candelabra and “2 Lamp Stands.”(8) Those stands may well have been similar to, if not identical with, the MWPI pedestal.

Essay by Donald L. Fennimore

1. Images of pedestals in Greek and Roman interiors can be seen in Gisela M. Richter, The Furniture of the Greeks, Etruscans and Romans (London: Phaidon Press, 1966), figs. 312, 317, 660.

2. Rudolph Ackermann, The Repository of Arts, Literature, Commerce, Manufactures, Fashions and Politics (London: R. Ackermann, 1809-28), 6, no. 32 (Aug. 1, 1818): facing page 121. The tripod, a slender columnar form on three legs, had a lineage equally as ancient as the pedestal and, though typically identified as a different form by writers on interior design and furniture, seems to have served interchangeably with the pedestal.

3. One of a pair of pedestals made in Boston, Mass, about 1818 is illustrated in Page Talbott, “Boston Empire Furniture,” Antiques 107, no. 5 (May 1975): 876, 885. One of another pair made in Baltimore, Md., about 1820 is illustrated in Wendy A. Cooper, Classical Taste in America, 1800-1840 (New York: Abbeville Press for the Baltimore Museum of Art, 1993), p. 40.

4. For a discussion of English pattern books in American subscription libraries, see Donald L. Fennimore, “American Neoclassical Furniture and its European Antecedents," American Art Journal 13, no. 4 (Autumn 1981): 49-65.

5. Redner’s piano case is illustrated in Donald L. Fennimore, “Gilding Practices and Processes in Nineteenth-Century American Furniture,” in Gilded Wood Conservation and History, ed. Deborah Bigelow, Elizabeth Cornu, Gregory J. Landrey, and Cornelius Van Horne (Madison, Conn; Sound View Press, 1991), p. 398.

6. The suite, which originally consisted of twenty- three pieces, is now dispersed. The Philadelphia Museum of Art owns the desk and bookcase and the Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library owns the bed, bedsteps, dressing bureau, washstand, and pair of wardrobes. Only the desk is signed by Jones.

7. The bed, bedsteps, dressing bureau, washstand, and two wardrobes are pictured and described in Sotheby’s, sale cat. 5810 (New York, Jan. 26, 1989), lot 1463.

8. Inventory and appraisal of the goods of Elijah Vansyckel, Mar. 8, 1855, Register of Wills, Philadelphia City Hall, Philadelphia, Pa.