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2. The hidden luxury of the artisan casa in Sixteenth-Century Venice

By  Zoe Farrell  | @zoeffarrell

In 1534, a man named Michele died in Venice and an inventory was taken of his possessions. Proceeding through the different rooms in his casa, Michele’s inventory details a large variety of material goods. Starting with precious objects of gold and silver, it proceeds to detail his fine clothing and furniture. From this inventory, we can see that Michele lived in a world surrounded by luxurious material items. He owned, for example, una vesta de pano negro alla dogalina fondra di vari – which was a gown typically worn by noblemen, with a lining of fur. He also owned many items made of fine materials such as velvet and damask, as well as several Moroccan rugs and painted and woven wall hangings. He kept books, paintings and a large amount of wooden furniture, in addition to silver knives, forks and spoons. [1]
This list is enviable even by today’s commercialised standards. However, Michele was not a nobleman. Instead, he made a living by making casks and barrels. He was a craftsman, an artisan, of modest means, yet he was able to possess an extraordinary number of material items in his home. Michele’s inventory is one of many like it and he was certainly not alone in his level of material consumption. Instead, he is representative of a trend which is strongly evident in sixteenth-century Venetian inventories, where men in the middling classes surrounded themselves with a wide variety of material objects, many of which were simultaneously functional, decorative and devotional.

 

[1] Archivio di Stato di Venezia: Canc. Inf., Misc. Not. Div., b. 36, n.10, f. 1r – f. 6r.

Image: The Grand Canal from Palazzo Flangini to Campo San Marcuola, Canaletto, about 1738. J. Paul Getty Museum (J. Paul Getty Museum) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c7/Canaletto_Grand_Canal_from_Palazzo_Flangini_-_JPGM.jpg

 

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