This extraordinarily rare gilt-gesso chandelier is designed in the 'antique' or French 'arabesque' style promoted by Louis XIV's cabinet-maker Andre-Charles Boulle. A related ormolu set of four chandeliers by Boulle with similar scrolled supports headed by masks rather than wyverns are in the Bibliotheque Mazarin, Paris (illustrated in H. Ottomeyer/P. Proschel et al, Vergoldete Bronzen, Munich, 1986, vol.I, fig.1.6.10).
Such chandelier patterns were popularized in England by King William III's architect Daniel Marot (d.1752). Drawings depicting related chandeliers with double-scrolled foliate arms, tassel details and fruited pendants appear in Marot's goldsmith's book Nouveau Livre d'Orfeverie, c.1700 and in his Oeuvres (reproduced here).
The number of extant gilt-gesso chandeliers dating to the first half of the eighteenth century is few. A similar pair executed in gilt-gesso and clearly inspired by Marot's patterns was commissioned by George I (d.1728) for Kensington Palace and supplied by the Royal cabinet-makers James Moore and John Gumley. One of the pair now hangs at Brympton d'Evercy, Somerset, and the other is in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (D. Fitz-Gerald, Georgian Furniture, London, 1969, no.17). A further well-known pair, also attributed to Moore and Gumley was supplied for the State Apartments at Holme Lacy, Herefordshire, of which one was sold in these Rooms on 21 April 1995, lot 243 ($715,000). This chandelier now hangs in the Kirtlington Park room installation at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Moore and Gumley, who were employed on Royal commissions from 1714, specialized in finely carved gilt-gesso work embellished with strapwork and scrolling foliage in a rich baroque vein. Aside from his Royal commission with Gumley, Moore was also independently employed by Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, eventually supervising the building work at Blenheim Palace after Vanbrugh's dismissal in 1716. She later referred to Moore as her 'Oracle'. Moore's other known private clients included the Earl of Burlington, to whom he supplied 'Sconces and Branches' at a cost of £6.6s for Burlington House, Piccadilly in 1720, and the Duke of Montagu (see G. Beard and C. Gilbert, The Dictionary of English Furniture Makers 1660-1840, Leeds, 1986, pp.618-619).
This remarkable chandelier is surmounted by an imposing wyvern, a fantastical dragon-like beast, which may well represent a heraldic attribute. While many families used the wyvern in its crest, the ancient Herbert family were prominent patrons who may have employed this symbol when refurbishing their houses. The chandelier could have been supplied to the great patron and collector Thomas Herbert, 8th Earl of Pembroke (d.1733) for his London townhouse at St. James's Square. It is recorded that there was a sale of the contents of the London house after the 8th Earl's death however there is no surviving copy of the auction catalogue. St. James's House was demolished and records of its contents have not yet come to light.Thomas Herbert's son, the 9th Earl, Henry Lord Herbert (the 'architect' Earl) altered and refurnished the family seat at Wilton House in the 1730s at which time he commissioned the superb giltwood furniture by William Kent. The hunting room at Wilton House features pilasters headed by the spread wings of the same heraldic wyvern (O. Hill and J. Cornforth, English Country Houses: Caroline 1625-1685, Woodbridge, Suffolk, 1966, p.79, p.101).
The chandelier's nozzles and drip-pans are executed in a robust interpretation of mid-18th century rococo forms as used by prominent English silver and metalsmiths during the early 19th century. A rare and important set of six candelabra from the Sampaio Service bearing the mark of Paul Storr and dated 1823 incorporates this design and was sold in these Rooms, 19 April 2002, lot 348 ($504,500). A pair of three-light candelabra by William Eaton, 1815 features similar nozzles and an eagle finial (reproduced here).