A little-known masterpiece
of 18th century Flemish Decorative Arts:
The Wooden chandelier by J.F. Allaert
A little while ago, I visited Ghent. This Flemish city has a wide range of historical buildings and places of interest. And a visit to the “Hotel de Coninck” was an absolute must. This museum houses a true masterpiece of 18th century Flemish Decorative arts.
In 1961, the city council of Ghent purchased a large wooden chandelier from an antique dealer in Brussels. This purchase was made at the same time negotiations were underway with a buyer who wanted this piece for a foreign collection. This chandelier was originally made to adorn the residence of the Knight F.J. de Coninck, presently housing the museum of decorative arts (known as the “Design Museum Gent”).
A brief description of the wooden chandelier is necessary to give a better idea of this masterpiece of Flemish industrial art.
The total height of the wooden chandelier is 1.80m and the diameter is 1.17m. The chandelier was carved from limewood.
|Wooden Chandelier of J.F.Allaert|
The principal decoration consists of four allegorical figures, placed at the foot of the tree of life. They symbolize the continents as seen through the eyes of people in the 18th century. These four symbolic figures are each about 0.30m tall and represent the four continents Europe, America, Asia and Africa.
The four continents
Europe is depicted as a child in an upright position, wearing a helmet made of feathers. Around its neck it’s wearing a necklace of the Order of the Golden Fleece. A slightly draped skirt covers the lower part of its body. Between its legs, there’s a canon. Its right hand is gripping a sword at the hilt. Its left hand is reaching for the neck of an eagle wearing an imperial crown.
A ship connects “Europe” to “America”. This ship has been carved in great detail, with small canons coming out of the side, a mast with a crow’s nest, an anchor, etc.
America is symbolized by a child dressed up as an Indian, with drawn bow and arrow. A quiver is leaning against its right leg, which is spread out over a crocodile.
Next to “America” we find “Africa”. The figure is wearing a hat in the shape of an elephant’s head with trunk. In its right hand, the child is holding a cornucopia, from which corncobs are protruding. It’s riding a lion with long manes and a half open mouth.
Between “Africa” and “Europe” a child symbolizing “Asia” is placed on a lying camel. It’s wearing a turban for a hat, and is holding a censer in its left hand and a beam of rays in its right. This depiction evokes images of the Middle East.
The palm tree rising up between these four allegories houses a nest on top of a fan-shaped crown. An eagle is snatching a cub from the nest, right from under a winged dragon, with fiery tongue.
This bird, with its wings spread wide, is holding an iron ring in its right claw, from which the chandelier is hanging. Underneath the allegorical figures representing the four continents, eight similarly arched arms spring from the bottom of the chandelier. These end in a dragon, of which the head supports the candle holder.
It is generally assumed that this wooden chandelier was made particularly for this residence. Tradition tells us that the artist, J.F. Allaert, worked on decorating this mansion under the patronage of the Knight de Coninck for many years. Striking is the fact that the chandelier was signed and dated on the bottom, with the depiction of the four continents sitting on top. Near the arms of the chandelier, hidden by the first rocaille, it says “J.F. Allaert 1770”.