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There are innumerable varieties of these lanterns, no two ever being found alike, so that the purchaser always has the happy feeling that he has a unique ornament. Most Spanish lanterns are made of tin, sometimes painted or gilded. Others, which were, as a rule, used on the outside of houses, hanging over driveways or placed near entrance doors, are made of wrought iron. The glass, being in many textures, colors and degrees of opaqueness, adds to the charm of these trophies.
Fitted with an electric light in place of the ancient candle, the Spanish lantern suspended from the ceiling with a silken cord gives color and grace to a hallway; in a living room it will contribute along with the other lamps and fixtures its due portion of decoration. The same type of lantern was sometimes arranged so that it could be placed on a long pole for carrying through the street. When not in use these pole lanterns were kept by the side of the door in the interior of the Spanish house, with the end of the pole placed in a block of stone. These types are the ones found today in some American homes standing stately and picturesque by entrance doors or flanking a Spanish or Italian fireplace.
What places these Spanish lanterns apart is that they are about the only examples of decorative craft work that use the humble tin creditably. There are, of course, the objects made of tole-a painted or enameled tin-but tole does not reveal itself, frankly and unabashed, as tin, and never does tole show the feeling of fantasy that one may discern in the flower and scroll forms of the Spanish lanterns made of this metal.
The beauty of the Spanish lantern is directly owing to the wonderful skill in iron which the Spanish developed above all other European artisans. The abundant iron mines of Spain yielded inexpensive material from which were wrought screens, chairs, tables, gates and even church doors. The intricate forms of thinly beaten-out iron seen in the altar screens and the gateways in Spain indicate the source of the ornate, highly artistic flowers and leaves, scrolls and coronets embodied in the design of the lanterns.
In the thirteenth century the French produced highly embellished lanterns, but seventeenth and eighteenth century makers of the Spanish lantern displayed more in genuity. Some of the examples have domes like mosques, with supporting pillars, cornices and arched openings.
Others have sides formed of leaded glass in designs suggesting windows. Square-shaped and six- and eight-sided lanterns surmounted by scrolls supporting a crown or coronet are a common type; in other designs the tendril scrolls of wrought iron work form a delicate screen over the glass.
An unusual style, of Moorish influence, is the star lantern, which is made entirely of glass, often with variegated hues. Some are perfect six-pointed stars that are marvels of construction, and others have the star points surrounding a drum-shaped centre also of glass. Quite different in form are the many-sided lanterns from Andalusia, constructed in fanciful forms from small pieces of glass. They recall the mosque lamps of the Saracens with their curved dome tops in elaborately pierced tin.