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The Domestic Interior in Italy c.1400-1550 - HOA00008M

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  • Department: History of Art
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Jessica Richardson
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2022-23
    • See module specification for other years: 2021-22

Module summary

The aim of this course is to study the domestic interior in Italy during the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, focussing on the cities of Florence and Venice and their surrounding countryside. The course is particularly concerned with the ways in which household values and the identity of the inhabitants are constructed and articulated in the decoration and furnishing of houses.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Autumn Term 2022-23

Module aims

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.

Module learning outcomes

  • A familiarity with a range of objects found in fifteenth and early sixteenth-century Italian houses
  • A knowledge of the socio-political and cultural conditions that influenced the shape and contents of domestic interiors and an ability to analyse the objects in relation to their historical context
  • An awareness of the varying approaches to this subject taken by art, architectural or cultural historians


Task Length % of module mark
N/A 100

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
N/A 100

Module feedback

You will receive feedback on assessed work within the timeframes set out by the University - please check the Guide to Assessment, Standards, Marking and Feedback for more information.

The purpose of feedback is to help you to improve your future work. If you do not understand your feedback or want to talk about your ideas further, you are warmly encouraged to meet your Supervisor during their Office Hours.

Indicative reading

  • Richard A. Goldthwaite, Wealth and the Demand for Art in Italy 1300-1600, Baltimore and London 1993, ISBN 0-8018-4612-9
  • Peter Thornton, The Italian Renaissance Interior. 1400-1600, London 1991
  • Luke Syson and Dora Thornton, Objects of Virtue: Art in Renaissance Italy, London, British Museum, 2001
  • Patricia Fortini Brown, Private Lives in Renaissance Venice, New Haven and London 2004, ISBN 0300-102-364
  • J. K. Lydecker, The Domestic setting of the arts in renaissance Florence, PhD 1987
  • Roberta J. M Olson, Patricia L. Reilly and Rupert Shepherd, eds., The Biography of the Object in Late Medieval and Renaissance Italy, Blackwells, Oxford, 2006, also published as a special issue of Renaissance Studies, 2005 (available online with jstor)
  • Marta Ajmar-Wollheim, Flora Dennis and Ann Matchette, eds., Approaching the Italian Renaissance Interior: Sources, Methodologies, Debates, also published as a special issue of Renaissance Studies, vol. 20 no. 5, 2007.
  • Marta Ajmar-Wollheim and Flora Dennis eds., At Home in Renaissance Italy, London 2006
  • Michelle OMalley and Evelyn Welch, eds., The Material Renaissance, London (Macmillan) 2007
  • Jaqueline Musacchio, Art, Marriage, and Family in the Florentine Renaissance Palace, New Haven, 2008 [ON ORDER]
  • Andrea Beyer, ed., Art and Love in Renaissance Italy, exhib. cat. Metropolitan Museum New York, New Haven, 2008

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.