I must’ve walked past the chandelier in the lobby of Vanderbilt a hundred times before I looked at it properly. More important things mattered every time I walked up the stairs. Is there still free Thai food in Golding? Why is there a book on Y2K law in the library, or really, any library? How many days until my wash-and-fold people are legally entitled to donate my laundry? I might’ve even noticed the placard at the base of the stairs first:
This chandelier is a unique piece handmade by Murano artisans for the foyer of Vanderbilt Hall. It is based on a 1930s Dutch design employing the same color scheme and Deco elements, which informed the architecture of this space.
Donated by Ruth & Joseph Weiler (2005)
Muranese handiwork! Unless you’ve been to Venice or taken interest in the historical development of artisan trades in Southern Europe, you may not be aware of the cachet of and history behind glass from Murano. In 1291, the Venetian Republic demanded that all glassmakers leave the main part of the city for Murano, an island to the north, so that accidental foundry fires did not level the city. Glassmakers on Murano became the leading glassmakers in Europe, in part due to their pioneering work to make cristallo (clear glass) and other enameled glasses. They were so prized by the Republic that they were immune from prosecution and, much more importantly, were allowed to wear their swords in public.
While considerably more of a tourist trap these days, Murano still carries on the fine tradition of creating beautiful glass, like the multifoliate chandelier in Vandy. Blown in Italy, maybe, but flown over in pieces. The fixture had to be assembled in New York City to ensure that it was up to code. The design is a replica of a chandelier in the home of Professor Joseph H.H. Weiler; he and his wife donated the one in the lobby a decade ago.
In its own right (and compared to the Teutonic dungeon fixtures in the library), the chandelier is beautiful. It brings a little bit of the Adriatic into the Law School, and reminds us that there are things in life besides striving and money (like expensive things you can buy only with lots of money). Vitreous humor aside—next time you’re rushing up the stairs to get free leftover pizza or going to the coat check, look up. Well, stop first. Then look up.