5 October 2006 -
7 January 2007

At Home in Renaissance Italy

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Rosary and Cross Enlarge image of the Rosary and Cross

Rosary and Cross
16th century, Italy
Rock crystal, painted and gilded, with pearls and gilded silver mounts
Museo Civico d'Arte Antica e Palazzo Madama, Turin


Devotion permeated all aspects of daily life in the Renaissance. Although traditional forms of prayer continued, some new practices emerged, bringing with them new objects.

People believed that holy images were an embodiment of the divine. This gave them an active power, and for this reason, they were often covered when not in use. Women could be reprimanded for allowing the images to see them while they were inappropriately dressed or applying cosmetics.

Households displayed religious art throughout the interior to advertise their faith and encourage good behaviour. In the late 16th century, the religious reforms of the Council of Trent imposed a degree of control over these images and also encouraged elite families to build their own domestic chapels.

"As soon as you wake up, say the 'Blessed are you, Lord'. Then take care of household chores: call the servants who have not got up; set up and prepare the fire; sweep the house; put the midday meal on the fire; dress the children; make the beds; and do all the other things that belong to that hour. Then for about half an hour, if it can be managed, remain in prayer. If you can spare a little time before lunch, return to praying on your knees."

From a conduct book for young women
(Giovanni di Dio, Decor puellarum, 1471)