Domestic Devotions

Domestic Devotions

The Place of Piety in the Italian Renaissance Home

Defining Domestic Space

Yesterday we held a reading group with our project members on the theme of ‘Domestic Space’. We try to conduct these thematic meetings on a monthly basis during the academic term. During our sessions, we discuss previous scholarship and current literature regarding a theme related to the Domestic Devotions project. Occasionally, we gather in a museum or library to view an object first-hand while discussing relevant literature.

Our roundtable focused on the question of what can be considered to be ‘domestic space’. Is it purely a familial space? How do we take into consideration the complex family relationships and living arrangements that were typical in early modern Italian society? Can a domestic space be defined solely as a place in which one sleeps? Do monastic cells count as ‘domestic’ space? What about the charitable institutions where many children were raised?

We discussed a range of sources, with everyone sharing their prior knowledge and new findings with the group. We considered the issue of regional distinctions, specifically pointing out how the home was organised in each of our three main regions of enquiry: the Veneto, the Marche, and Naples. We heard reports from some of the primary source research that has already begun in these regions. Also, we discussed how cultural differences all over Italy might cause local inhabitants to experience domestic devotion in similar or different ways to those in other regions.

During our discussion, we confronted the issue of anachronism – considering how not to cloud our modern-day notions the ‘domestic’ with those that were current in the Renaissance. We discussed themes of privacy and limited access to the private spaces within the early modern ‘home’. In contrast, we also considered the permeability of domestic spaces—did the walls of a home delineate its division from the outside world or did a stronger relationship exist between the interior and the exterior?  How did differences in gender, class, and age lead Renaissance Italians to experience the domestic in different ways? How can we extend our understanding of ‘domestic’ beyond the structure of the home and the objects housed within? Can we consider how sights, sounds, and smells contributed to how people experienced domestic spaces?

Overall, our discussion proved to be a fruitful impetus towards our goal of defining the Italian Renaissance ‘domestic’. The issues that arose led us not only to potential answers, but also more importantly to new avenues to pursue in our research in the coming months.  In our attempt to discuss how domestic space is interpreted in our different disciplines, we have begun to intertwine these approaches in order to come to a more cohesive and well-rounded definition of the ‘domestic’ portion of our project. — Katherine Tycz & Maya Corry

Some of useful sources on the subject of domestic space include:

Marta Ajmar-Wollheim and Flora Dennis, eds., At Home in Renaissance Italy (London: V & A, 2006)

Leon Battista Alberti, I libri della famiglia. Edited by Ruggiero Romano and Alberto Tenenti (Torino: G. Einaudi, 1969)

Erin J. Campbell, Stephanie R. Miller, Elizabeth Carroll Consavari, eds,. The Early Modern Italian Domestic Interior, 1400-1700: Objects, Spaces, Domesticities (Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate, 2013)

Flora Dennis, ‘Sound and Domestic Space in Fifteenth- and Sixteenth-Century Italy’, Studies in the Decorative Arts, 16, 1 (Fall-Winter 2008-2009), pp. 7-19.

Margaret A. Morse, ‘The Venetian Portego: Family Piety and Public Prestige’, in The Early Modern Italian Domestic Interior, 1400-1700: Objects, Spaces, Domesticities, edited by Erin J. Campbell, Stephanie R. Miller, Elizabeth Carroll Consavari (Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate, 2013)

Peter Thornton,  The Italian Renaissance Interior 1400-1600 (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1991)



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