The art of carving in rock crystal, the colourless variant of quartz, was a highly treasured art-form from antiquity but with renewed interest in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, with the finest examples coming from the Milanese workshops.
The fascination with rock crystal was in its transparency. Prior to the 16th century completely clear glass had not yet been invented, thus rock crystal was employed with an almost functional purpose in reliquaries, bowls, jugs and lamps. It was not until the mid-16th century that it was widely used with a decorative purpose by incising the surface, or in a sculptural context by carving it in the round. The great Medici and Hapsburg dynasties, as well as Spanish royalty, amassed large collections of delicately carved rock crystal vessels depicting scenes from antiquity or decorated with highly elaborate scrollwork.
As a group of six rock crystal and gilt-copper candlesticks, the present and following two lots would have originally adorned a church altar. Religious decoration of this type would commonly be used to fill and enhance an architectural space. They were often made of a gilt base metal, such as copper and, depending on the wealth of a church or patron, would be embellished with semi-precious stones or, in this case, rock crystal. Few examples on this scale remain, but a closely comparable, mid-18th century, Neopolitan candlestick exists with a similar drip-pan and body, as well as elaborately ornamented gilt-metal foot (see Colle, Griseri and Valeriani, loc. cit.). An even closer comparison can be made with a pair of candlesticks decorated with virtually identical putti heads on either side of a rock crystal cartouche on both the foot and central knop (ibid).