When I first began writing novels set in the 17th century, I quickly became aware that lighting would play an important part in any night time scene. If outdoors, then the phase of the moon dictates how much light there is to see by, and any indoor scene would need to be lit by some means.
So what did ordinary people use in their daily lives?
The earliest form of lighting, which existed in Greek and Roman times and persisted until well after the 17th century was the rush-light. Gathered in the height of summer, the rushes were stripped to leave only a narrow sliver of green attached to the pith. These were then dried in the sun and were sold on, or used at home. To give you an idea of their lightness and fragility, a pound in weight of rush-dips contained 1600 dry rushes (according to Gilbert White of Selborne )
|Chobham Museum, Rushlight holderphoto by Brian Wood|
Candles were the light of choice for more wealthy householders, and rush-light holders often had a candlestick attached, see left. Candles were made the same way as rush-lights with string dipped several times in grease, or by moulding them with a 'candle stool'.
|Candle stool for moulding candles|
Free standing candleabra such as this Spanish 17th Century example, were common, as were wall sconces, usually of a simple wrought iron variety. These examples are later, but something similar is referred to in Evelyn's diary of the 17th century.
A lamp was often just a candle inside a metal carrier, and often not glazed but with holes cut to let out the light, or bars to prevent the candle from falling over and setting light to the furnishings. See the picture at the top of the post. Examples with glass are rare, but this is a German hand-held lantern. The front hinges open so that you can insert a candle, and there is a 'chimney' to let the smoke out. The handle is at the back, as heat rises and this prevents the hand being burned.
I became especially interested in different types of lighting because my latest novel for teens and adults, 'Shadow on the Highway' has many night-time scenes.
In order to understand the visual effect of the light and shadow of naked flames I turned to artists such as Gerrit Von Honthorst (see below) and Rembrandt. I hope to write a further post on these artists as their paintings really helped to shape the world of light and shadow I was trying to create. The painting I've put in this post is called 'The Denial of St Peter', though the subjects are dressed as contemporaries to Honthorst. The darkness where things can be out of sight so easily, is a thing that novelists often forget to take account of, but this painting makes it very evident.
'Shadow on the Highway' is coming out in a few weeks time as an e-book from Endeavour Press, and the paperback will follow later. It is about the life and legend of Lady Katherine Fanshawe, the highwaywoman.
Here is a sneak preview of the cover.