The private nature of domestic interiors and the tendency to adapt and transform them according to the requirements of each generation means that, until recently, they have been less studied than the architectural and design history of ecclesiastical and public buildings. Likewise, facades and ground-plans have long been studied as the foundation stones of architectural history, but a holistic approach to interiors encompassing the total decorative programme and material contents of houses can help provide answers to other sets of questions concerning the motives and habits of the occupants and the functions and meanings of objects in people's lives.
This course looks behind the facade to investigate the interiors of houses and their contents, seeking to understand the inhabitants and their value systems by studying the material culture of their homes. As the period usually identified with the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the early modern world, it is often associated with the emergence of a consumer society and the nuclear family. These broad historical problems impinge on the study of interiors as we analyse the proliferation of luxury objects and the configuration of the household.
The module begins by looking at how the messages conveyed by the interiors and exteriors of houses relate to each other and the role that so-called private buildings play in the projection of families' identities. We shall then explore themes such as lay piety and devotional practices within the home, rites of passage and their representation, the chivalrous household, the collection and consumption of objects, theories of magnificence and modes of display, seclusion and secrecy, rural subject matter at the villa. The categories of object to be studied will include tableware, tapestries, Madonnas, portraits, birth trays and marriage chests, in Florentine houses such as the Palazzo Medici, the Medici villas of Careggi and Fiesole, the Palazzo Corsi-Horne and the Sassetti villa at La Pietra; and in Venice at the Ca' d'Oro and the Palazzo Grimani.
By the end of the module students should have acquired the following: