January 29, 2014

Lithophane Lighting

I was looking at something on line and they mentioned updated Lithophane lighting. I wasn’t exactly sure what this was, so I did a wee bit of research and thought I’d share what I learned. image

From the Lithiphane Museum:

Lithophanes are three-dimensional translucent porcelain plaques which when backlit reveal detailed magical images. First created in Europe in the 1820s, the largest collection of this 19th century art form in the world is now on view at the Blair Museum of Lithophanes.

Lithophane is a term derived from the Greek litho meaning stone and phainen meaningto cause to appear. This Greek derivation has proven confusing to people who might know some basic Greek, but do not know that lithophanes have nothing to do with stone or a stone product, but are made of porcelain.

Here’s a more detailed explanation, talking about how it has to do with the translucence and the depth of the surface. Sounds like something for a 3D printer! It is argued that this process was derived in China with the ultra-thin Blanc de Chine porcelain, and how the artisans manipulated it. Lithophanes are between 1/16th and 1/4 of an inch thick!

When the lamps are not lit, there’s very little evidence of what awaits you when they’re turned on. This is a piece without being lit:image

and this is the same piece lit from behind. image

Lithophanes are used in nightlights, candleholders, globe lights and much more. Their primary function is their beauty and not their lighting ability. They’re sort of old-fashioned now, although I did find these contemporary ones, with scenes of the London Skyline and a beach. (top image)image

Here’s an example from Wedgwood.image

And a votive light from Lladro.image

This nightlight is fun!image

I love learning new things.


  1. So much fun learning about the wonderful lighting, the detail is delightful, loved the one with the little boy getting a spanking...and the last one was so pretty too...the one with the birds is so amazing ...loved the post ...thanks for sharing

  2. What a fascinating concept. Love the mouse nightlight.

  3. My sister has two of them. They're beautiful.

  4. Hello Meg, I've seen those porcelain lithophanes before--they're pretty cool. They are also often used in the bottoms of Japanese teacups or sake cups, so if you have any Asian-looking cups, it's a good idea to hold them to the light. Victorian name cards and greeting cards also created the same effect using paper.

  5. Don't you remember these were a big deal back in the 90s with the love of victoriana! We had a number of them in our house (probably from jcpenneys or something) including nightlights -I think I still have one packed away somewhere. They're SO charming! Just in the past few years i've been seeing tabletop tealight holders like you have shown here -some with scenes of DC, etc. - I just adore them.

  6. oh my gosh, i am so excited about this new term you just learned us!!!! i like this kind of lighting so much because i love greek friezes and reliefs and it reminds me of them.


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