Renaissance houses had many bedrooms, the most important being the camera grande (‘large bedroom’). The camera was smaller and more intimate than the sala and had a fireplace, making it warm in winter.
The camera was a room at the heart of family life. Apart from sleeping, the daily routines of washing and dressing took place here, alongside devotion, textile work and even informal dining. It was also the setting for major life events – birth, marriage and death – and was open to selected visitors.
The room and its decoration were a visible manifestation of family memory and continuity. The splendid furnishings were often bought at the time of the marriage, to mark the beginning of the couple’s new life together. This might involve a large investment. The bed and its rich hangings, the daybed, and the pairs of painted and gilded chests were among the most expensive items in the house.
“This is the bed of my nuptials, in honour of which my husband’s father, Salvi, made all these magnificent and regal decorations, which I revere in memory of him and from love for my husband, and mean to defend with my very blood and with life itself.” – Margherita Acciaiuoli’s protests at the threat of her camera furnishings being given to the King of France (Vasari, The Lives of the Artists, 1550)
Many of the objects in the Tuscan camera were decorated with stories from classical antiquity or the Bible.
There were painted marriage chests, and paintings set into wall panelling or above pieces of furniture. Images of the Virgin and Child were hung high on the wall, while portraits of ancestors were placed above doorways. Both cast their protection over the whole room.
The camera d’oro or ‘golden bedroom’ of the Venetian house was famed across Europe. Its dazzling effect was created by the rich and luxurious furnishings: gilded chests, chairs, mirrors and wall hangings, shiny Islamic metalwork and luminous paintings. The authorities thought this decoration excessive and made repeated attempts to curb it.
Unlike the Venetian sala, the camera d’oro had a fireplace. This made it a place to gather and entertain on a small scale in the cold, damp winter months. The built-in alcove bed was distinctively Venetian. It often had a little mezzanine above, called a sopraletto, where children and their nurse could sleep within earshot of the mother.
“The fireplace was all of Carrara marble, shining like gold and carved so subtly with figures and foliage…The ceiling was so richly decorated with gold and ultramarine and the walls so well adorned, that my pen is not equal to describing them.” – Description of a camera d’oro from the journal of Pietro Casola (1494)