Issue Number: 92
Frances Borzello admires the first exhibition to look at how domestic life is pictured in Renaissance art
Art enthusiasts have traditionally approached the Renaissance through painting, sculpture and architecture. A few objects occasionally creep in – Botticelli’s Venus and Mars in London’s National Gallery started life as a headboard or a wedding chest – but when they do, their domestic origins are minimised. For decades, the decorative and domestic arts have occupied a less important place than the fine arts in our understanding of the period.
All this is set to change this autumn with an exhibition at the V&A, which focuses on the Renaissance interior. Artefacts from harpsichords to baby walkers reveal that life went on in fifteenth-and sixteenth-century Italy in ways familiar to us today. Paintings are included more for their information on the interior than the reputation of the artist. Sofonisba Anguissola’s portrait of Sisters Playing Chess (c.1555) offers evidence of Renaissance recreations and Carpaccio’s Birth of the Virgin (c.1504–8, right) gives a glimpse of childbirth rituals.
Vittore Carpaccio, Birth of the Virgin, c.1504-8
The domestic interior is now attracting the attention of those who believe that the Renaissance is as much the product of the home as it is of the city, church and state. The grand aristocratic houses created exceptional artistic environments: for example, many objects from the study of the Palazzo Medici are reunited for this show, from Van Eyck’s Saint Jerome in his Study to the Luca della Robbia ceiling roundels. Merchants operated more modestly, exhibiting their taste and wealth with silver and crystal cutlery, and majolica dishes. The V&A looks at the Renaissance from the inside out, giving us a glimpse of the private, visual world that framed peoples’ lives.
At Home in Renaissance Italy, Victoria and Albert Museum, London (020 7942 2000), 5 Oct–7 Jan
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