A lampshade is a fixture that covers the lightbulb on a lamp to diffuse the light it emits. Conical, cylindrical and other forms on floor-, desk- or table top-mounted as well as suspended lamp models are the most common and are made in a wide range of materials. The term can also apply to the glass hung under many designs of ceiling lamp. Beyond its practical purpose, significant emphasis is also usually given to decorative and aesthetic features.
During the Middle Ages in the late 17th-century in Paris the first public lanterns made their appearance in the centre of the streets. In 1763, the réverbères made their appearance. The first public oil lamps in Milan, financed by revenues from a lottery, date from 1784. These were lanterns containing an oil lamp with a number of wicks. A semi-spherical reflector above the flame projected the light downwards, while another reflector, slightly concave and near the flame, served to direct the light latterly.
Friedrich Albert Winsor first had the idea of industrialising lighting by producing gas in a factory and distributing it through a pipeline. In the first decades of the 19th century, competing gas companies laid the first gas mains in major cities. But there were fears of explosion and intoxication.
The flame fed by the gas coming out of the nozzle was intense, uniform and adjustable, white and brilliant instead of reddish or orange, like with oil lamps or candles.
The drawbacks of gas lighting were overheating of the air and extremely high oxygen consumption, making it necessary to ventilate the room or isolate the flame by separating the room where the combustion took place from the room being lit. Theatre audiences regularly suffered from headaches and the sulphur and ammonia formed during combustion of the gas ruined furniture.
Gas light had to be filtered by opal glass or light fabric shades. Lampshades were no longer used to direct the light but to attenuate it.
In 1879, Joseph Swan and Thomas Edison independently developed – combining and perfecting existing elements deriving from the research of Humphry Davy, De Moleyn and Göbel – the incandescent filament electric light bulb.
To disguise the intense electric light, lampshades were used. Some were made by Nicholas Feipel in coloured glass. The great advantage of the electric light bulb was the absence of flame and traces of combustion, thus avoiding all risks of intoxication, explosion or fire. In the beginning, the filament was made of carbonised vegetable fibres, then bamboo fibres and finally metal alloys until, in the early 20th century, the tungsten filament invented in 1904 became established.