1 The Domestic Interior in Italy, 1400-1600
2 Gender, Taste and Material Culture in Britain and America in the Long Eighteenth Century
3 Gender and the Domestic Interior in England and Wales, 1660-1830
4 The Modern Magazine and Design of the Domestic Interior in Europe and America, 1880-1930
5 Envisioning the Home: Contemporary Design and the Domestic
6 Symposium on Postwar European Home
The Domestic Interior in Italy, 1400-1600
Marta Ajmar and Flora Dennis
The project is to research an exhibition on the Italian Renaissance domestic interior between c.1400 and c.1550, to be held at the Victoria & Albert Museum in 2006, and another venue abroad. Drawn largely from the V&A collections, with a number of important exhibits from other collections (including art and design, archaeological and ethnographic museums) this exhibition will explore the interior as a powerful context where social behaviour and cultural and aesthetic values are constructed and challenged. Aimed at a wide audience (target figure: 250,000), the exhibition will provide an ideal arena for presenting some of the key intellectual questions and issues emerging from the activities of the Research Centre.
How does the Focused Study advance knowledge?
Recent scholarship (particularly J.K. Lydecker, The Domestic Setting of the Arts in Renaissance Florence, unpublished PhD Dissertation, The Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, 1987, and R.A. Goldthwaite, Wealth and the Demand for Art in Italy 1300-1600, Baltimore and London, 1993, and P. Thornton, The Italian Renaissance Interior, London, 1991) has marked out the house as a central locus for the definition of power, identity and artistic development in Renaissance Italy. Yet these contributions still leave many questions unanswered that demand extensive research. Owing to their focus on 'high' art, these works have shed light on the élite interior, leaving the middling and low out of the picture. Concepts of gender and their relationship to the use of spaces, objects and representations are another area which demands extensive investigation, particularly in view of recent arguments by historians that women became increasingly confined to the home in this period. Although the process of specialisation that transformed domestic spaces, functions, furnishings and objects during the Renaissance has been documented by these and other works, only an exhibition allows the visualisation of these momentous changes. An exhibition will also allow art objects to be set against not only the fast-changing aesthetic and spatial background of the domestic interior but also other more mundane commodities. By placing 'high' and 'low', masculine and feminine, old and new, Western and Eastern artefacts next to each other, the exhibition will challenge the ever-influential Burckhardtian perception of Italian Renaissance art and material culture as uniformly splendid, egalitarian, innovative and home-grown. Such an exhibition will contribute significantly to new debates on Renaissance domesticity, at the same time providing a tri-dimensional, tangible representation of such debates.
The exhibition will evoke a Renaissance house 'room by room', not by reconstructing the actual rooms people once lived in, but by bringing to life the context in which the furnishings, furniture and other objects of the time were used. It will be a chance to show important paintings and sculpture within a typical domestic setting, alongside the everyday, but also alongside the decorative arts that were sometimes more highly prized, so questioning our modern hierarchies. Throughout the rooms metalwork, textiles, ceramics and woodwork will be used to suggest a range of different social and economic contexts, not just élite interiors. Whenever possible, the monetary value of objects will be indicated. The spaces will also convey the variety of gender-related domestic experience characteristic of the period, by placing say needlework beside arms and armour.
The exhibition will cover the period 1400-1550 when artistic, cultural and socio-economic changes showed themselves to the full. It will concentrate on Florence - the best-documented Italian centre - but will also provide a meaningful comparative framework (possibly through small 'excursions' to the Tuscan countryside and another urban centre, such as Venice). As a prominent trade centre, Florence is ideally suited to show the great variety of international artefacts and goods available at the time, allowing a break out from an Italo-centric model. The show will open with 15th- and 16th-century paintings and drawings, prints and sculptures representing the domestic space, closing with a small section on 19th- and 20th-century representations (film, paintings, photographs, etc.) of Renaissance and Neo-Renaissance houses.
Gender, Taste and Material Culture in Britain and America in the long Eighteenth Century
The study of consumption has boomed over the last fifteen years, but basic questions about women, men and material culture remain unanswered. Why is female materialism criticized, while male consumerism often escapes notice? Men historically have disassociated themselves from shopping, but nevertheless they were open and enthusiastic consumers of certain categories of goods (horses, carriages, watches, alcohol, weapons, tools, books and so on in the eighteenth century) and furtive consumers of much else. The purpose of this study is to bring together scholars working on eighteenth-century Britain and America, combining the insights of history, historical geography, architectural history, art history and material culture studies in order to reexamine the relationship of men, women and objects.
Themes will include:
How does the Focused
Study advance knowledge?
Second, the study considers the intersection of gendered ideals and practices with material culture. While the project will draw on philosophical work on taste in the eighteenth century, it intends to explore the practices of material culture and the understandings embedded in these practices. Thus, this project will consider how the relationship between the often anxious statements regarding gender and taste, and the lived practices of men and women.
Third, though gender is so often used to mean women, this project will insist on the importance of analysing both womens and mens practices and understandings.
How did women and men differ as patrons of art, furnishings and high-design objects?
Were male and female consumption practices viewed differently? Did women actually shop more than men in the past? Why was shopping considered unmanly, but collecting seen as a sign of virtuous enlightenment?
How did gender inflect their relationship with goods and did men and women regard their own tastes and practices as gendered?
To what extent did things express or create gendered identities?
Are there fundamental differences between male and female attitudes to material culture, and did men and women display the same anxieties about their knowledge of and interest in material culture?
Did men and women use material culture to accrue authority or power in the domestic interior?
What was the place of objects in Anglo-American culture?
Robert W. Jones, Gender and the formation of taste in eighteenth-century Britain: The analysis of beauty (CUP, 1998).
P.King, 'Pauper Inventories and the Material Lives of the Poor in the Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries', in T.Hitchcock, P.King & P.Sharpe, Chronicling Poverty: The Voices and Strategies of the English Poor, 1640-1840 (Macmillan, 1997), pp. 155-191.
Women, china and consumer culture in eighteenth-century
Katharine Martinez and Kenneth L. Ames (eds), The Material Culture of Gender, The Gender of Material Culture (The Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum, Winterthur, Delaware, 1997).
Charles Saumarez Smith, Eighteenth-Century Decoration: Design and the Domestic Interior in England (Weidenfeld, 1993)
Carole Shammas, The domestic environment in early modern England and America', Journal of Social History, 14 (Fall, 1980), pp.3-24.
Carole Shammas, The Pre-industrial Consumer in England and America (Oxford, 1990)
Philippa Tristram, Living Space: in Fact and Fiction (London: Routledge, 1989)
L.Weatherill, 'A possession of one's own: women and consumer behaviour in England, 1660-1740', Journal of British Studies, 25 (1986), pp.131-56.
L.Weatherill, Consumer Behaviour and Material Culture in Britain, 1660-1760 (London, 1988)
Gender and the Domestic Interior in England and Wales, 1660-1830
The parlour was (ill) furnish'd in the modern taste, with French chairs, festoon'd curtains, and puff'd bell ropes; this and his keeping in bed informed me that the gentleman was not master of his own house.
So wrote the traveller John Byng in the 1780s when he encountered the pernicious effects of female taste on yet another English interior. He was certainly not alone in his horror of feminine domination. Indeed many of the key stereotypes about female taste and aesthetic allegiance were minted in this period. Fussiness of ornament, greater delicacy or even fragility in furniture, and a yen for lighter colours were all associated with women in the male literature on design; clichés which abound in marketing and design circles to this day. Justified or not, the widespread complaints about a stylistic feminisation of the interior are suggestive of the control at least some women sought to exercise over their surroundings and should alert historians to the fact that here was an issue which troubled contemporaries.
How does the Focused
Study advance knowledge?
This emerging consensus can be questioned at many points. The chronology of economic change on which it draws is suspect, while the narrative of separate spheres is a dubious one too. The notion that élite women voiced no interest in architecture and interiors before the 1760s is, in the absence of any substantive research, an argument from silence. In any case, given the persistent muttering about the effeminisation of robust masculine taste and the fact that women had long been considered responsible for the management of the household in all its aspects, it seems inherently implausible that they did not exercise a considerable degree of control over the way interiors were designed, furnished and decorated much earlier. The gloomy tale of a decline in useful domestic accomplishments (needlework, book-keeping) in the gaudy face of fashionable accomplishments also needs close examination. The contrast between usefulness and meaninglessness is suspect. Does a seventeenth-century tapestry have any more inherent utility than an early nineteenth-century embroidered foot-stool? The full range of women's domestic practices from the seventeenth to the early nineteenth century needs to be considered.
To do this will require a proper examination of the domestic arrangements and practices of women further down the social scale than the noble and the genteel, who are the subject of what little work currently exists on the eighteenth century. Here there is an almost complete absence of serious studies with an empirical dimension. Economic historians have devoted much attention to female domestic labour as a crucial element in commercial manufacturing before the factory. This has recently led some of them, like Jan de Vries, to reflect on the relationship between paid and unpaid female labour in the home, building on earlier discussions by pioneers of womens history like Ivy Pinchbeck and Alice Clark. But the key questions concerning the furnishing, use and meanings of plebeian domestic spaces remain largely unresearched.
The study will involve a critical assessment of existing but scattered published work on eighteenth-century objects, architecture, aesthetics, and consumption. It will also entail extensive primary research on, inter alia, painted and printed images of interiors, on women's magazines and fashionable journals like The World and the Town and Country; on contemporary design and architectural commentary; on travel literature, diaries and family correspondence; on inventories and court records; on housekeeping manuals, surviving shopkeepers accounts; and, of course, on surviving buildings and objects.
What was the relationship between precept and practice in womens relationship with the domestic interior?
What were the criteria, aesthetic, functional and experiential, by which domestic interiors were judged and to what extent did they have a gender dimension?
Was the permeability of domestic spaces a gender issue? What has been the relationship between gender and privacy and access?
What were the predominant modes of representation of the domestic interior in the period and in what ways were they gendered?
Did the physical and visual character of the interior constitute a system for the regulation of gender relations?
To what extent were domestic interiors sites of female production, artistic and mundane?
How useful is the distinction between élite and vernacular for analysing the history of domestic spaces?
An especial effort will be made to exploit the conceptual work that has been undertaken by cultural historians of colonial America, particularly those who have been associated with the Winterthur graduate program in early American culture. In considering aspects of the domestic interior, their work has repeatedly demonstrated a conceptual sophistication that has been lacking in studies of the equivalent period in Britain.
Colin Cunningham, An Italian House is my Lady: Some Aspects of the Definition of Womens Role in the Architecture of Robert Adam, in Gill Perry and Michael Rossington (eds.), Femininity and Masculinity in Eighteenth-Century Art and Culture (MUP, Manchester, 1996).
John Styles, Manufacturing, Consumption and Design in Eighteenth-Century England, in R. Porter and J. Brewer (eds.), Consumption and the World of Goods (Routledge, London, 1993)
Amanda Vickery, The Gentlemans Daughter (Yale, London, 1998)
Jan de Vries, Between
Purchasing Power and the World of Goods: Understanding the Household Economy
in Early Modern Europe, in Brewer and Porter (eds.), Consumption
and the World of Goods.
The project will investigate the origins and development of modern interior design magazines and their significance for the design of the domestic interior. Placed at an intersection of interests, most significantly those of architecture, design and interior decoration, the magazines developed at this time from representing various professional concerns to those of the more general reader, coinciding with the mass circulation of consumer oriented publications.
How does the Focused
Study advance knowledge?
The purpose is to
establish a comparative study of at least three different countries, including
Britain, the United States of America and Germany. Other countries may
be considered, depending on the expertise of other members of staff contributing
to the Focused Study. An initial list of magazines includes: The Builder,
Country Life, The Studio, Ideal Home, Good Housekeeping, the Ladies Home
Journal, Deutsche Kunst und Dekoration, Dekorative Kunst, Die Form
This project will pursue detailed case-studies of individual titles in order to establish their technical, stylistic, visual and literary identities. From this, a comparative interpretative study will emerge. An analysis of the place of magazines in the broader cycles of education, emulation and fashion will be offered.
The second stage of the project, more exploratory by nature, will find ways of relating the design ideals represented in magazines to the historical changes in the character of particular domestic interiors. This is by no means a straightforward process and indeed, a discussion of appropriate methodologies will form part of the initial project. The first step will be to examine specific individual interiors that have been represented in the publications. By their nature, it is to be expected that these will often depict the clearly defined élite or significant artistic interiors rather than those of a more representative kind. The next step will be to evaluate the impact of the mediation on more ordinary domestic spaces working from a variety of visual and written sources and archives.
It expected that this second stage of the project would take a geographically focused set of case studies to explore these questions in greater depth. Evidence will be sought to help understand how or whether the rhetoric of the design magazines went beyond the page.
The project grows from work carried out during the last
ten years on the emergence of graphic design as a newly defined profession
in late-nineteenth- and early twentieth- century Europe. The place of
design publishing has been of particular importance in this research,
as witnessed in chapters in the book, Graphic Design in Germany, 1890
1945, Thames and Hudson in association with University of California
Press, 2000. In addition, activities as the curator of two exhibitions,
Signs of Art and Commerce: graphic design in Germany 1890-1940
(V&A Museum, 1997) and Print, Power, Persuasion, graphic design
in Germany 1890-1945 (The Wolfsonian, Florida International University,
2000) have provided opportunities to develop strategies of interpretation
which will be employed in the exhibition proposed by the Research Centre
in conjunction with the Department of Prints, Drawings and Painting at
the V&A Museum.
Are distinct national identities evident in design publishing, or to what extent was the sphere of publishing becoming increasingly homogenised?
To what extent can the audience for these magazines be seen to be constructed around gender?
What was the balance in the magazines function between promoting the professional interests of builders, decorators, architects and designers, and engaging a new and rapidly growing leisure reader?
How does the contrast between advertising and editorial content assessed by quantitative analysis, alter perceptions of the publications?
Changes in the conventions, styles, techniques
of illustration and other pictorial representation of the interior will
be considered, as will the idea of journalism as a literary genre.
Christopher Breward, The Hidden Consumer, Masculinities, Fashion and City Life 1860 1914, Manchester University Press, 1999
Beatrix Colomina, Privacy and Publicity, Modern Architecture as Mass Medi,a MIT Press, 1996
Lori Loeb, Consuming Angels: Advertising and Victorian Women, Oxford University Press, 1994
Christopher Reed, Not at Home, the Suppression of Domesticity in Modern Art, Thames and Hudson, London, 1995
Nancy Troy, Modernism
and the Decorative Arts in France, Art Nouveau to Le Corbusier, Yale
University Press, 1991
The project Envisaging
the Home investigates how the domestic setting is conceptualized
and articulated through contemporary design (and design processes). It
considers how these innovations and concepts are incorporated within the
sphere of mainstream contemporary retail and consumer culture.
This symposium aims to bring together speakers from across
Europe and North America to explore the meanings attached to the home
during the 1940s and 1950s.
David Crowley and Susan E. Reid, eds., Style and Socialism: Material Culture in Post-War Eastern Europe Berg, 2000.
Karal Ann Marling, As Seen on TV. The Visual Culture of Everyday Life in the 1950s, Harvard University Press, 1994
Walter L. Hixon, Parting the Curtain. Propaganda, Culture and the Cold War, 1945-1961 Macmillan, 1997