‚Space, Privacy and Gender in the Roman Baroque Palace‘

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Two major architectural developments are said to characterise the residential palace in Baroque Italy: the separation of public from private areas of the building and the creation of separate, and allegedly symmetrical apartments for its male and female inhabitants within the latter. It is normally assumed that spatial practice was shaped by these divisions and that men and women enjoyed equal levels of seclusion and privacy in their quarters. Yet, if we turn to sources that reveal minute details of eve- ryday domestic life, such as family letters, a much more complex picture emerges. Focusing on the Spada residence in Rome in the mid decades of the 17th century, this paper suggests that female inhabitants of the palace could aspire to very little privacy by comparison with their male counterparts. This was due to the tasks that women performed in service of the household and to their maternal roles but also to intrinsically hierarchical assumptions about genders which made female space much more open to intrusion than male one. In spite of the concerns for sexual honour and modesty that pervades the architects’ discourse, in actual facts gender segregation worked for men, not for women. The calendar of renovation works that transformed the look and design of the palace also shows that women’s pleas for a better qual- ity space were repeatedly ignored in favour of other logics so that, far from being equivalent, female apartments were systematically more cramped, noisy, darker and unhealthy than male ones.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)287-307
Number of pages21
JournalHistorische Anthropologie
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2018

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