5 October 2006 -
7 January 2007

At Home in Renaissance Italy

Renaissance House

Iseppo da Porto and his Son Adriano Enlarge image of Iseppo and Livia

(L) Livia da Porto Thiene and her Daughter Porzia
The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, Maryland 37.541
(R) Iseppo da Porto and his Son Adriano
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence
Paolo Veronese
About 1551, Venice, Oil on canvas

Cross Section of Houses Belonging to the Gaddi Family of Florence Enlarge image of the Cross Section of Houses Belonging to the Gaddi Family of Florence

Gabinetto dei Disegni e Stampe degli Uffizi, Florence

Renaissance House

In the years between 1400 and 1600 Italians became the most extravagant builders in Europe. Wealthy citizens commissioned magnificent palaces, and displayed their gentility and education through splendid possessions. Many of these objects were novelties. Some, such as glass mirrors and printed books, are familiar to us today. Others, like birth trays, relate to beliefs and practices that have vanished. The modern distinction between 'fine' and 'decorative' art was not yet firmly established. Prestigious artists would produce domestic objects as well as paintings and sculpture. Social, cultural and moral messages could be found in a portrait or an inkstand.

The Renaissance was a period of profound change. Its revival of classical antiquity took place in a world of economic growth, scientific and geographical discovery, political and religious conflict. While reflecting these upheavals, domestic life also played an active role in the creation of art and culture.


House and household were both called casa. The 'family' that comprised the casa included not just the nuclear unit of parents and children, but also many blood relatives and servants.

The casa was a hub of activity - domestic, economic and social - and during the Renaissance it accommodated increasingly specialised spaces and objects. Visitors would generally be shown the first floor or piano nobile. This included a suite of rooms leading from the sala (reception room), to the camera (bedroom), and then the scrittoio (study). The basic distinction between sala and camera was visible at almost all social levels right across Italy.

In grand houses there were also rooms for specific activities such as music, dining and small parties, as well as areas that most visitors would not see: the kitchen, cellars, attics and servants' quarters.

Guide your guests around the house and in particular show them some of your possessions, either new or beautiful, but in such a way that it will be received as a sign of your politeness and domesticity, and not arrogance: something that you will do as if showing them your heart.

From a conduct book for new brides (Pietro Belmonte, Istitutione della sposa, 1587).

Moving House (Detail) Enlarge image of Moving House (Detail)

Moving House(Detail)
Vincenzo Campi, 1580-90 Cremona. Oil on canvas

People, Spaces and Objects

The exhibition will focus mainly on objects from elite households, since they are more likely to survive. By the end of the 16th century, however, families from a wider social spectrum could afford an unprecedented range and quantity of domestic goods - linens, printed images and painted wooden chests, as well as glass, earthenware and kitchen utensils.

Wealthy families remained in the same place for generations, and their houses were an expression of dynasty and permanence. Poorer people moved frequently, though usually within the same neighbourhood. Lacking a permanent house, they maintained the idea of casa through family and possessions.