In 2016 restoration work was completed on a pair of English crystal-glass chandeliers from the 1760s that are among the rarest exhibits in the State Hermitage.
They occupy a special place in the museum’s collection of lighting devices. These are the only chandeliers in the world fitted with musical and moving mechanisms: as well as the usual lighting function, when the mechanism inside is wound up decorative crystal horns (“fountains”) move and a tune plays.
The chandeliers come from the collection of the Duchess of Kingston, who brought them to Russia in the 1780s. Later they were bought by Prince Grigory Potemkin, after whose death in 1791 the chandeliers were acquired by Catherine II as part of a collection. We do not know where precisely the chandeliers hung in Catherine’s time. Her son, Paul I, had them installed in his new residence, St Michael’s Castle, in the state apartments of his wife, Maria Feodorovna. The Inventory of Items on the Bel Étage in St Michael’s Castle, compiled by Count Ivan (Johann) Tiesenhausen records: “Two large crystal chandeliers with mirrored vases…. With crystal pendants, each holding 24 candles. These chandeliers contain a chiming mechanism. The mechanisms are spoilt and do not play.” After Paul’s assassination in 1801, the chandeliers returned to the Hermitage.
Until they were removed for restoration, one of the pair hung in the Small Dining-Room of the Winter Palace. The second was in the Great Church of the Winter Palace from the mid-1800s.
In the early 2000s the chandeliers were dismantled and later the long process of restoration began. The chief difficulty lay in recreating more than 2,000 elements of the crystal-glass decoration (the new pieces were made following plaster models of the pieces requiring replacement). This work was carried out by the staff of the Laboratory for the Scientific Restoration of Chandeliers under the direction of Pavel Alexandrovich Khrebtukov. Also laborious was the process of assembling the crystal elements making up the central core of the chandeliers, which had been carried out incorrectly in the late 19th or early 20th century and did not accord with accepted practice for such English-made chandeliers in the second half of the 18th century.
The reconstruction and tuning of the mechanisms forming the elaborate musical and moving parts of the chandeliers, which comprises a musical mechanism playing 12 tunes on a set of 13 little bells and a counter-rotating mechanism driving two rows of decorative horns and little fountains, were carried out in the Laboratory for the Scientific Restoration of Clocks and Musical Mechanisms, headed by Mikhail Petrovich Guryev.
In the course of the restoration, it was decided not to carry out electrification of the chandeliers, so as to permit the functioning of the restored musical mechanisms.
No more than 20 examples of 18th-century English-made chandeliers have survived around the world and musical chandeliers like those in the Hermitage cannot be found anywhere else.
The restoration of the unique musical chandeliers was carried out thanks to the support of the company BP.
After the completion of restoration, the chandeliers adorn two of the halls of British art (Nos 298 and 300).