5 October 2006 -
7 January 2007

At Home in Renaissance Italy

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Fireplace with the arms of the Boni family of Florence Enlarge image of Fireplace with the arms of the Boni family of Florence

Fireplace with the arms of the Boni family of Florence
Geri da Settignano c.1458 Florence, Pietra serena, V&A

Portrait of a Gentleman Enlarge image of Portrait of a Gentleman

Portrait of a Gentleman, probably of the Soranzo family of Venice. Paolo Veronese 1575-87, Venice, Oil on canvas. By kind permission of the Earl and Countess of Harewood and the Trustees of Harewood House Trust

The sala was the biggest room in the house. Situated at the front and open to most visitors, its decoration was meant to convey the status of the family. It was a flexible space, used for entertainments such as singing, dancing and games, as well as for dining. Wedding celebrations and parties also took place here.

These different activities required moveable and versatile furniture. Trestle tables and folding chairs were set up for meals and then dismantled quickly for dancing.

On festive occasions, there would be temporary displays of elaborate dishes and vessels, some borrowed from family and neighbours. Garlands of flowers and fruit would decorate and scent the room. Valuable hangings would be taken out of storage to transform the look of the space.

The Tuscan Sala

This large rectangular space was often dominated by two imposing architectural features: a fireplace and a wall fountain. They were usually set at a right angle and designed as a pair. The fireplace was a focus for social gatherings, particularly in winter. The wall fountain had shelves to hold fine sculpture and everyday objects such as ewers and basins. Like other furnishings in the sala, the fireplace and wall fountain often bore a coat of arms to display the family's standing in society.

The windows were often placed quite high. They were covered with waxed paper or linen instead of glass, creating a diffused light. Wall fountain, fireplace and door frames were richly carved in the local grey stone, pietra serena, and the floors were paved with hard terracotta tiles.

This austere interior could be brightened with paintings and textile hangings.

The Venetian Sala

Known as the portego, the Venetian sala was a long, narrow room. It was dominated by a row of windows in one of the end walls, glazed with locally produced glass.

Gilded ceilings and highly polished terrazzo floors reflected light. Vibrant tapestries and large-scale paintings, often by leading artists, filled the room with colour. Portraits promoted the family's social and political standing within the Republic, while devotional pictures advertised the household's piety. Military achievements were celebrated through elaborate displays of weapons and the spoils of war.

As an international trade centre, Venice supported a lively market in imported goods and their imitations: from Netherlandish tapestries to Islamic metalwork and locally produced 'Turkish' shields.