5 October 2006 -
7 January 2007

At Home in Renaissance Italy

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Spectacles Frame Enlarge image of Spectacles Frame

Spectacles Frame
End of the 14th to mid 16th century
Probably Florence, Horn
Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Florence.
Excavated in Via de' Castellani

Work and Contemplation

The daily work of notaries, merchants, bankers and doctors depended on inkstands, fountain pens and spectacles, scientific instruments, books and maps. By the 16th century, these practical objects were often designed with great artistry, so they now combined a specific function with an aesthetic value.

Many educated people were also collectors, and they liked to keep their carefully acquired possessions by their desk so they could reach out and handle them.

Through its varied, even encyclopaedic, contents this crowded room reflected the Renaissance mind. Coins, books and bronzes evoked the classical world of ancient Rome. Maps, astrolabes and natural curiosities were a means of investigating the new worlds revealed by modern science and exploration.

"When evening comes, I return home and go into my study. On the threshold, I strip off my muddy, sweaty, workday clothes and put on the robes of court and palace, and in this graver dress I enter the antique courts of the ancients and am welcomed by them. And for the space of four hours I forget the world, remember no vexations, fear poverty no more, tremble no more at death: I pass into their world."

From a letter written by Niccolò Machiavelli in 1513