5 October 2006 -
7 January 2007

At Home in Renaissance Italy

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Spinet Enlarge image of Spinet

About 1600, Italy
Cypress, sycamore, pear wood, beech, ebony and ivory


By entertaining guests, families could elevate their status and put into practice the social skills that were now regarded as a sign of nobility. Conversation and dancing, for example, were meant to show accomplishment.

Other activities sometimes threatened to undermine the code of civility. The comedies recited by household members could be too saucy, and gambling could trigger violent disputes.

Much of the indoor entertainment took place in the winter months, around the festivals of All Saints, Epiphany and Carnival. In the summer people often gathered in outdoor spaces such as the garden. Marriages and births were also an occasion for elaborate celebrations.

In most households the company would consist of friends, relatives and neighbours. But sometimes, when elite houses provided accommodation for foreign dignitaries and their retinues, entertainment could also have a formal, political dimension.