The Renaissance Scrittoio

Whether used for business or the display of collections, the study or scrittoio was not a room that was accessible to many visitors. It was a quintessentially male space, an office but also a repository of family memory, where household documents were often written and treasured.

Most noblemen, wealthy professionals and merchants would have had a study. Sometimes it was on the ground floor or on a mezzanine, but generally it was on the first floor, opening off the camera.

St Jerome in his Study by Antonella da Messina, c. 1475 Venice
St Jerome in his Study by Antonella da Messina, c. 1475 Venice

The study often had special furnishings for storing papers and valuables relating to work, as well as cupboards and shelves for the display of collections. These might include rare books, scientific instruments, natural curiosities and small bronzes inspired by classical antiquity.

The Medici Study

The study (scrittoio) belonging to Piero and later Lorenzo de’ Medici was a tiny room, like a treasury, filled with exquisite objects. Completed by 1459, it was on the first floor of the family’s newly built palace, within the main suite of rooms. The vaulted ceiling was decorated with the celebrated cycle of the Labours of the Months by Luca della Robbia. The floor, now lost, was made of painted tiles, probably by the same workshop.

Labours of the Months by della Robbia c. 1450
Labours of the Months by della Robbia c. 1450

The walls were lined with inlaid cupboards, with shelves designed to house books and works of art. There were antique gems, medieval reliquaries and jewels, contemporary illuminated manuscripts and small paintings, often acquired as collateral to loans.

One of the first to include a large number of antiquities, this concentrated collection had a widespread and long-lasting influence. Visitors to the study described it as a ‘stupendous thing’.

Source: V&A Muesum UK

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