Listening to Furniture

Posted in books, Member News, reviews by Editor on November 8, 2009

Recently added to caa.reviews:

Dena Goodman and Kathryn Norberg, eds., Furnishing the Eighteenth Century: What Furniture Can Tell Us about the European and American Past (New York: Routledge, 2007), 272 pages, $69.95 (9780415949538)

Reviewed by Stacey Sloboda, Assistant Professor of Art History, Southern Illinois University; posted 4 November 2009.

norberg_furnishing_eighteenth_centuryIn a conceptually wide-reaching and useful introduction to “Furnishing the Eighteenth Century: What Furniture Can Tell Us about the European and American Past,” editors Dena Goodman and Kathryn Norberg ask, “Can the settee speak?” (2). That this question remains relatively novel suggests the importance of the book. Their answer, of course, is affirmative; and the twelve essays that constitute this collection provide ample new, thoughtful, and frequently surprising revelations about what exactly eighteenth-century furniture said to a broad range of makers, users, and audiences. Written by scholars in the fields of history, literary studies, and art history, the essays are methodologically diverse yet unified by an interest in the social and cultural uses and meanings of objects and interiors in the eighteenth century. . . .

In a revelatory essay that should become standard reading for students of eighteenth-century French visual and material culture, “The Joy of Sets: The Uses of Seriality in the French Interior,” Mimi Hellman explores multiple reasons why sets, serial designs, and matching objects became characteristic features of the eighteenth-century French interior. Deftly weaving formal, cultural, and historical approaches to specific objects, Hellman deploys a wide range of theoretical insights, from anthropology to psychoanalysis, to argue that, “serial design was a crucial site for the enactment of elite self-fashioning, an eloquent representational system that elicited performances of social mastery” (147). Furthering the concept of signifying objects, Mary Salzman’s careful analysis of Jean-François de Troy’s pendant paintings “The Garter” and “The Declaration of Love” (1724) argues that decorative objects in de Troy’s paintings constitute a form of visual rhetoric that communicated with savvy viewers for whom judgment was an important critical activity. . . .

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Sloboda, Hellman, and Salzman are all HECAA members. For CAA members, the entire review can be found here»

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