Decorating a Baroque palace
August 19, 2022 6:42 PM   Subscribe

I want to read or watch something about decorating a Baroque palace. Like, once the building is done being built, and they set about decorating and furnishing it. I'm sure this must exist, and I'm sure one of you knows about it!

It doesn't have to be Baroque per se. Any time between the "medieval castle era" (which I know a lot about because of my kids' 8 million books on how to build and run a medieval castles), and the beginning of the Industrial Revolution is what I'm curious to know more about, when they're doing up Versailles without any industrial materials. Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo, anything along in there.

I'm sure there must be a documentary or living history program, as well as books, and I'd love to learn more about furnishing and decorating a grand house of the era.
posted by Eyebrows McGee to Media & Arts (10 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
All I've got is a movie where Kate Winslet is a garden designer for the brand new palace of Versailles: A Little Chaos

(Including bonus Alan Rickman as "The Monarch" and the director.)
posted by amtho at 7:07 PM on August 19, 2022 [1 favorite]

Book about Grinling Gibbons, written by one of the few people capable of replicating his work.
posted by clew at 8:05 PM on August 19, 2022 [1 favorite]

You may love to get into French Chateau YouTube. Chateaus span in age from the about the 13th century forward.
Most of the work being done in them is more modern (post 1800s style) but there is a lot of rich history of the older sections of them. And it may scratch the itch of historical design.

I personally love Chateau Diaries. She has done videos of tours of other chateaus and just started a channel specifically for her travels and tours. A lot of them are very vlog style of fixing up chateaus, but they do often go into the history of the buildings themselves and often are doing restoration work. Once you get into some of them, YouTube may recommend more.

Others I like that are more focused on the decor, history, and restoration:
Chateau Diaries (above) and the new channel Stephanie's Grand Tour of Europe
The Beau Chateau
Castle ten Berghe (there's a three part tour from Chateau Diaries)
Bordeaux Life
Doing it Ourselves and his brother's channel The Pethericks who just bought a stunning Convent
Château de Purnon is a new one I found

Hot tip, YouTube's algorithm is actually better if you aren't logged in and use a private window. Otherwise your own subscriptions sort of override the rabbit hole effect of recommendations and can just loop you around instead of recommending similar content.
posted by Crystalinne at 11:00 PM on August 19, 2022 [7 favorites]

Somehow, I feel I should be able to help here, and I'm not really. But when I think about it, it's because the period you are looking at is when art and architecture were most integrated since antiquity. In theory, there were no distinct, separate phases where you first built the house and then you decorated it, since the ideal would be that the architect worked with the artists and artisans to create the whole intended experience. Obviously, it wasn't always like that, but the reason we know that is that people commented on it when there were deviations. For instance, the architect Andrea Palladio liked his structures to be very austere, with no superfluous decoration, so when one of his clients called in Paolo Veronese to freshen up some rooms, Palladio was not pleased.
Another thing that happened is that construction work was so slow that the first architect died off, and you had to find a new one. But very often, the lines between architect, sculptor and painter were quite blurred. So you have Bramante making the original ideas for St. Peters in Rome, then Michelangelo taking over the leadership role, and then other architects again, and then Bernini creating the main altar baldacchino and porticos. But all the time, the ideal is to create a continuous whole.

About furniture: up till the 18th century, there wasn't a lot of furniture. There were beds and different types of chests and cupboards for holding valuables, and some throne-like chairs. These were unique works of art, and very expensive. I kind of like this attitude, because it meant they used their rooms/halls in a very flexible manner. If you were hosting a party in May, you might set up your simple table and benches in a South-facing hall, to catch the sun. Whereas in August, you might sit outside, under the portico, or in a North-facing hall. The simple board and trestle table would then be covered with expensive linens and beautiful tableware. Libraries are an exception from this lack of "decoration". You would then ask a master joiner to create a library in a designated space. He would come in, measure the space and you would discuss the decorative scheme. Then he would make it within the formal language of the age. A lot of things were given. You bring the books.

All of this begins to change during the 18th century, along with the invention of privacy. Before, corridors were rare. You just went through a room to get to the next, regardless of who was there or what they were doing. Corridors meant servants could move around almost unseen, and at the same time, people began to assign more specific functions to rooms. There would be a specific dining room, morning room, study etc. And during this period, pattern books for decoration begin to appear, demonstrating appropriate designs for different rooms. Like, dining rooms often had hunting scenes. Bedrooms could have a romantic theme, or something about night and day. You could then look through the pattern book for a style, and show the example you like to your local craftsmen, and they would then make an interior as good as they could. Panels, wallpapers and silk wall coverings appeared, and you could order them through the mail. In the same vein, there was now a lot more furniture, and pattern books for furniture. Sofas arrived from the Ottoman Empire (which is why an ottoman is another word for sofa), and with them a whole other way of entertaining. The 18th century is a wild period.

If you were very rich and well educated, you would still find the best artists you could afford and let them loose in your house. Again, you would probably choose a theme and define functions, but the artists had a lot of freedom within that framework.

This is a very basic overview, there are tons of exceptions.
posted by mumimor at 12:23 AM on August 20, 2022 [44 favorites]

You might enjoy looking through the archives (by period) of The Frame Blog.
posted by brachiopod at 2:50 AM on August 20, 2022 [1 favorite]

I would recommend "The Age of Comfort: When Paris Discovered Casual -- and the Modern Home Began" by Joan DeJean. It focuses on France in the late 17th - mid 18th centuries and the rise of "comfortable" home furnishings, and has a lot of information about the various components of a grand house -- parquet flooring, bathroom fixtures, upholstered furniture, etc.
posted by The Giant Rat of Sumatra at 7:05 AM on August 20, 2022 [4 favorites]

Lucy Worsley has a series you might like, If Walls Could Talk: The History of the Home, as well as a bunch of other documentaries about royal palaces (she's a curator of): Tales from the Royal Bedchamber, Tales from the Royal Wardrobes and Britain's Tudor Treasure: A Night at Hampton Court.
posted by sukeban at 10:09 AM on August 20, 2022 [1 favorite]

The algorithm sent me this today, and though it isn't exactly what you are looking for, I think you would find it interesting: Queen Victoria's Palace: How She Changed Buckingham Palace. It's a mixed bag, but some of the photography is stunning, and I think the research is sound, without being an expert in that particular niche.
posted by mumimor at 10:31 AM on August 20, 2022 [2 favorites]

In related, when we first watched 'The Two Popes' (2019) I was impressed that they got access to The Sistine Chapel... but they didn't, they actually built a scale reproduction in Cinecitta Studios, which was dismantled after photography was finished.
posted by ovvl at 4:04 PM on August 20, 2022 [1 favorite]

I've had this ebook open in a tab for weeks and haven't started reading it yet, but it might be relevant if you're up for an academic look at the subject:

The Early Modern Italian Domestic Interior, 1400-1700 : Objects, Spaces, Domesticities.
by Erin J. Campbell, , Stephanie R. Miller, , Elizabeth Carroll Consavari, , and Dr Allison Levy. Taylor & Francis Group. 2013-12-16.

Table of contents:

Part I Domesticities
1 “Uno palaço belissimo”: Town and Country Living in Renaissance Bologna
2 From Padua to Rome: Pietro Bembo’s Mobile Objects and Convivial Interiors
3 “A casa con i Sirani”: A Successful Family Business and Household in Early Modern Bologna

Part II People, Spaces, and Objects
4 Parenting in the Palazzo: Images and Artifacts of Children in the Italian Renaissance Home
5 The Venetian Portego: Family Piety and Public Prestige
6 Art and Family Viewers in the Seventeenth-Century Bolognese Domestic Interior

Part III Domestic Objects and Sociability
7 Chi vuol esser lieto, sia: Objects of Entertainment in the Tornabuoni Palace in Florence
8 Il mare di pittura: Domestic Pictures and Sociability in the Late Sixteenth-Century Venetian Interior
9 Let’s Eat: Kitchens and Dining in the Renaissance Palazzo and Country Estate
10 Silk-Clad Walls and Sleeping Cupids: A Documentary Reconstruction of the Living Quarters of Lucrezia Borgia, Duchess of Ferrara
11 “All that is Seen”: Ritual and Splendor at the Montefeltro Court in Urbino

Part IV Objectifying the Domestic Interior
12 Objectifying the Domestic Interior: Domestic Furnishings and the Historical Interpretation of the Italian Renaissance Interior
13 Recreating the Renaissance Domestic Interior: A Case Study of One Museum’s Approach to the Period Room
posted by telophase at 10:23 AM on August 22, 2022 [2 favorites]

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