Published April 23, 2013
There's a good reason the bell jar lantern has such an elegant, timeless quality that works so well in many different spaces. With roots in medieval and Renaissance designs, this lantern has evolved into a classic fixture that has suited different design styles for centuries. It could add just the right decorative touch to your home. Below, learn how this home staple has evolved from the Dark Ages to modern times.
Medieval lighting. The bell jar lantern has a design firmly rooted in medieval lighting styles. Evidence of metal used to make the lamps has been documented from the Dark Ages through the Renaissance.
As glass became more accessible over time, lamps became more popular. Leonardo da Vinci was the first to capture a flame inside a glass chimney, which was fitted to a water-filled glass globe.
The beauty and proportions of the bell jar lanterns shown here add just the right amounts of scale and grandeur to this hallway.
Renaissance bell jar lanterns. Prior to the Renaissance, hanging lamps were carved from wood, brass or silver. Designed mainly in round shapes, they were intended to hold only candles. But soon the glass chimney became the most popular form of pendant lighting. A tin, pewter or brass fixture was held from the ceiling by a circular ceiling plate, hooks and chains. However, these lamps were still mainly decorative.
The French-style bell jar lanterns with gilt touches here harmonize well with the other Renaissance-style furniture in this thoughtful setting.
Bell jar lanterns in 18th-century England. Most homes in 18th-century England were dark and gloomy, as lighting was either generated from an open fire or candlelight. Candles were an expensive commodity and used sparingly, even among the wealthy.
Bell jar lanterns were often hung in the vestibules and entrance halls of Georgian manors, but the candles were lit only when guests were expected. The glass bell jar protected the candles from being blown out when the doors opened.
The bell jar lantern with bronze fittings shown here is the perfect fit for this understated yet classic foyer.
Early-19th-century bell jar lanterns. By the early 19th century, the bell jar lantern could be seen in the foyers of many American colonial homes. The glass cap, known as the smoke bell, was designed to keep candle smoke from blackening the home's ceilings.
Acid etched, opalescent and other creative finishes could be applied to the chimney and smoke bell glass. The shade carrier (the straps that go around the chimney glass) often had silver or bronze relief patterns with matching hook fittings.
Colonial India bell jar lanterns. In Colonial India the bell jar lantern was called a hundi lantern, and it quickly became a popular fixture. The hand-blown glass was often colored, unlike the traditional clear or etched glass designs in Britain and the United States.
The ambient light from this milk glass lantern would be a delight to entertain in.
Modern bell jar lanterns. Many different styles and sizes of bell jar lanterns are available today. Whether the glass is plain, etched or colored, or the fittings are bronze or chrome, these elegant pendants have become an enduring asset in the home.
Inspired by the beauty of the original bell jar pendants, these replica lanterns have all the benefits of antique lights without the high price tag.
Houzz is the leading online platform for home remodeling and design, providing people with everything they need to improve their homes from start to finish -- online or from a mobile device. From decorating a room to building a custom home, Houzz connects millions of homeowners, home design enthusiasts and home improvement professionals around the world. Gabrielle Di Stefano is a contributor to Houzz.