Health, Air and Material Culture in the Early Modern Italian Domestic Environment

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This essay challenges the enduring view that medical definitions of unhealthy air and the measures devised to counter its noxious effects, remained unchanged for centuries. The focus on the home, domestic practices and household advice literature reveals that in the sixteenth century bad air was increasingly conceptualised as seasonally, locally and home-produced, rather than as being determined by distant, external and ungovernable agents. Inspired by a greater confidence in the possibility of controlling nature, environments and lifestyles, doctors and architects engaged in providing solutions and advice aimed to preserve pure air that increasingly affected consumers' choices about home design and furnishings. The essay also suggests that the focus on ‘bad air’ has led to neglect shifting conceptualisation of ‘good air’. For example, the case of the changing purposes of domestic perfuming practices and artifacts reveals that fragrant air was increasingly appreciated for its impact upon the senses and spiritual wellbeing.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)695-716
Number of pages22
JournalSocial History of Medicine
Issue number4
Early online date7 May 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2016


  • material culture, environmental medicine, preventive health, history of the home, history of the senses, perfuming practices, vernacular medical writing, history of architecture

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