Hanging oil lamps using a float-wick had long been employed for lighting both public and private spaces, but in Renaissance-Baroque Europe they were particularly popular with the Spanish, probably due to the influence of the Islamic Moorish culture. The assembled pair of silver and silvered brass oil lamps in the Dumbarton Oaks Music Room are typical of luxury sanctuary lamps made during the Spanish Baroque period. The conical-shaped reservoirs have been worked in the repoussé technique with C-curve cartouches, foliate friezes, gadrooning, and other popular Baroque motifs. The reservoirs are suspended from a double canopy by three chains attached to acanthus-leaf “arms” with granulated spines. Originally, tassels were suspended from the underside of the reservoirs.
In planning their Music Room, the Blisses originally wanted to minimize the presence of electrical lighting in the room. Robert Bliss had instructed their architect, Lawrence Grant White, “All things being equal, we do not want modern mechanical and structural details to intrude themselves on the impression of the whole, which we hope to make mellow and old-fashioned.” Nevertheless, White outfitted the Music Room ceiling with two electrical outlets and on 27 July 1928 wrote Robert Bliss: “I am concerned about the illumination of the ceiling in the Music Room. … From these new outlets, it will be possible to hang
fixtures of the type of sanctuary lamps, which I think would look well in the room.” After taking up permanent residence at Dumbarton Oaks in 1933, the Blisses soon purchased the assembled pair of oil lamps through a New York City dealer, who claimed that they had been acquired from the Cathedral of Siguenza in Spain. The Blisses similarly used other electrified sanctuary lamps to illuminate hallways and staircases.
Bühl, Gudrun, editor. Dumbarton Oaks, The Collections. Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection (distributed by Harvard University Press), 2008, 346f, ill.
Reportedly from Siguenza Cathedral, Spain.
Purchased from French & Co., New York, NY (dealer) (inv. nos. 28311B and 34559b as Italian 16th Century), by Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, 12/8/1933.
Collection of Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, Washington, DC, 12/8/1933-11/29/1940.
Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, House Collection, Washington, DC.