Lighting and the church interior have been intimately related since early Christian times not only for practical but also for symbolic reasons. The Gospel of John especially established the associations of “God as light” and “Christ as the light of the world,” and the necessary physical manifestation of light within the church interior has been a major driving factor of church architecture and design. Since medieval times, angels have been employed as the bringers of divine light, and representations of angels holding candles or other lighting devices have been used for church illumination while at the same time underscoring the divine or heavenly association of the light. When combined with color—either polychromy or stained glass—or with a reflective material such as glass, mirror, or polished bronze, silver, or gold, the beauty and power of this symbolic lighting is further enhanced.
This pair of French Baroque sconces was most likely originally part of a larger set employed in a church interior, probably on the nave piers or columns. Made of polished gilt-bronze or ormolu, each sconce, now electrified, has an angel face set unusually against four feathered wings. These wings radiate both upward and downward somewhat in the manner of Tetramorph imagery, where the symbols of the four Evangelists are similarly framed by wings. From under the angel’s face protrudes a foliate scrolled arm that terminates in a large candleholder or bobèche decorated with gadrooning and leafage. The designer of these sconces has associated the candle arm and the angel face in a somewhat haphazard fashion, establishing a connection between the angel and light more through juxtaposition than through a coherent representational image.
Bühl, Gudrun, editor. Dumbarton Oaks, The Collections. Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection (distributed by Harvard University Press), 2008, 348f, ill.
Purchased from André Seligman, antiquarian, Paris (dealer), by Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, 5/1927.
Collection of Mildred and Robert Woods Blliss, Washington, DC, 5/1927-11/29/1940.
Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, House Collection, Washington, DC.