Architectural Space and Decoration in Eighteenth-Century Europe

Architectural Space and Decoration in Eighteenth-Century Europe
(Seminar) FINH-GA 3033-001
Professor Meredith Martin
Spring 2014

This seminar explores the eighteenth-century European interior through an integrated analysis of architecture, painting, sculpture, and decorative arts. Interiors were dynamic, and at times controversial, sites of artistic and social experimentation in the eighteenth century. Whether they were decorated in the rococo, neoclassical, or chinoiserie styles, interiors were believed to shape and express evolving notions of power, identity, taste, and desire. Architects and novelists who wrote about interiors, among them Germain Boffrand and Choderlos de Laclos in France and Robert Adam in England, described them as concrete manifestations of a patron’s “character,” but they also recognized that interiors were mercurial, multi-sensory environments that could communicate different meanings to different inhabitants, and that could conceal as much as reveal the self.

We examine interiors created for a variety of architectural settings, from Bavarian churches to Parisian boudoirs. Attention is also paid to the recreation of eighteenth-century rooms and furnishings in museum displays at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Frick Collection, and elsewhere. Readings emphasize new methodological approaches to the study of interiors, particularly from the perspectives of gender and cross-cultural exchange. While the focus is on Europe, we consider how “European” styles were transported and adapted to interiors in Asia and the Atlantic World, and students may wish to pursue this further in their final research projects.

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