Notes on Votive Candles
We have a wonderful set of votive candle holders by Marimekko. Last night, as I fired them up for the visit of some of my best friends, we pondered their existence and outlined this blog. Here are my thoughts on this ubiquitious object.
I suppose the genesis of my recent thinking about them began on Friday when I had dinner with Sue and Stuart Feld. He is president and director of Hirschl and Adler Galleries. They both have the keenest eyes for beautiful paintings and objects. Their house is made especially interesting because it is lit with lighting devices from the 19th century, now electrified. Their relatively low light creates a remarkable glow and each of the lamps and chandeliers is a beautifully crafted neo-classic object. Lighting is clearly important to them.
The dining table was lit with real candles. Down the center was an interesting arrangement of candlesticks—a pair and then a single stick of a different but similar design, placed three in a row. Most collectors and decorators would only buy pairs of candlesticks, but in the Felds’ display of beautiful objects, they exhibited the single stick in the center of their handsome table. A pair of amber votive candles flanked this display. Mrs. Feld placed them for additional light and the brown color of the glass made them blend into the polished wood . Interestingly, they were the only 20th-century objects in the room. I think the ability of these candles to fit into all kinds of interiors is the key to their popularity.
My far-reaching term interest in the use of votives stems from my first job in New York at the auction house Christies. I worked there with Liz Shaw. Mrs. Shaw had a great career in public relations, particularly at the Museum of Modern Art. She told me about developing the idea of large public benefit parties at museums, now a common occurence. In particular, she fostered the famous summer receptions in the museum’s sculpture garden. One afternoon, before the first of these parties, it dawned on her that the garden needed decoration and light. She conjured the idea of using the votive candle as decoration. She lined the garden with votives supplied by the museum’s closeby neighbor, St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Within a decade, she saw votives everywhere, from modest cafes to the finest tables. For a bit of historic symmetry, I reminded Mrs. Feld about Liz Shaw’s modern museum votive “installation.” She recalled how beautiful and suprising those candles were back then.
I find it interesting that votives once used only for religion have become so universal in the secular world.
Our Marimekko votives are made of Iittala glass (some of the best quality hand-blown stained glass available), hence, their colors are particularly beautiful. They are one of the few objects that regularly appear in our projects—our work is usually so site specific, but these seem to find a place in many of them. I illustrate one example here in an apartment featuring both contemporary art and early American furniture. I like how they offer a pop of contemporary color.