CONFERENCE | Early Modern Palaces, Real and Imagined: conversations, descriptions and representations


Conference organised in collaboration with Galleria Borghese and co-organised by Francesca Cappelletti (Galleria Borghese), Francesco Freddolini (Sapienza), Harriet O’Neill (BSR; Royal Holloway) and Caterina Volpi (Sapienza).

This event will take place via Zoom and requires advance registration. Please click here to reserve your place.

A limited number of in-person spaces are also available. Everyone attending an event in Rome must pre-register using the link below, and will be required to present a valid Covid vaccination pass.

Early Modern Palaces, Real and Imagined: conversations, descriptions and representations

This conference explores how conversations that took place within early modern palaces, literary descriptions of real and imagined dwellings, descriptions in epistolary exchanges and in other textual sources, as well as visual evidence such as drawings of interior spaces, shaped ideas about early modern palaces across Europe as spaces of sociability, display, encounters, and social performance.

Palaces as spaces for collecting and display have been the subject of almost four decades of research. Although unquestionably rich, this body of literature has tended to focus on and indeed isolate specific centres, such as Rome, Paris, London and Florence. The conference convenors believe that adopting a thematic approach, concentrating on discourses of descriptions in words and images has the potential to reveal how the social interactions which took place within the palaces, literary accounts and exchanges of information, generated commonalities, triggered competitions and enhanced differences. Rather than treating texts—or descriptive images— simply as sources, we propose to adopt a critical lens investigating them for their textuality and their relation to the materiality of the interior. It is anticipated, given that literary texts, as well as information exchanged through letters circulated widely, that this thematic approach will foster new conversations on the agency of such descriptions on the life of—and within—the palaces.

The conference will explore the relationship between real and imagined palaces, with a specific focus on their interior decoration, materiality, and display, across a wide geographical span during the early modern period. This thematic approach can foster comparative perspective to the subject across Europe, and beyond. The papers will address the following questions: how did collecting and display adapt in relation to conversations that took place in front of artworks with increasing frequency? How did texts contribute to the reputation and fame of palaces? How did imagined palaces influence the design of real residences and the materiality of their interiors? How did ideas about exotic palaces reach Europe through discourses on magnificence and splendour?