A Social Practice: The Culture of Collecting in Early Modern Italy

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    • Presentation speakers
      • Camilla Annerfeldt, European University Institute, Florence, Italy


    For my paper, I would like to discuss the culture of collecting as a social practice in early modern Italy. Collecting came to be an important practice for Italian elites in the fifteenth-century courts, from both a cultural as well as a political point of view. Riches were transformed into taste and knowledge in the same moment they were used to acquire fine objects, which were regarded to be filled with cultural and artistic meaning, and the acquisitions of such objects could thereby also altered the social hierarchy, which was based on status and reputation. The objects of a collection were in other words emblematic of social rank, and thus collections could be understood as representations of means to gain prestige, as well as a way to transform money into higher social standing. An important aspect on the acquisition of objects is the value of the provenance. The possession of objects came to concern not only physical ownership but also the acquisition of qualities believed to be inherent in the objects themselves. The value of collectable items was closely tied not only to their material worth, but also to their biographies and provenances; objects previously owned by illustrious owners were in demand, since the new owner hoped to inherit some of the status associated with those possessions. The collectible objects were many and variable, and the purpose above all when collecting was the materialization of splendour. Accumulating objects served, through purchased and invented material, in this sense to fashion and define the identity of the collector. It was a way of constructing an aesthetic image of oneself, not only as rich, but also as refined and cultured.