About Decorative Arts
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The decorative arts—the furniture, pictures, ceramics, textiles, glass and metal objects—found in early houses are not only pleasing to look at, but tell us much about the people who lived in those houses. The decorative arts help us understand the development of style and taste, and at the same time provide important insights into social and economic history.
Some information about the decorative arts is gained from documents. Estate inventories, for example, provide detailed lists of objects found in specific rooms, and also disclose monetary values placed on those objects. From these we can learn about the wealth of an individual or a family and also about how they valued their possessions. Textiles such as linens, blankets, bed hangings and feather mattresses, often accounted for the most valuable portion of an estate. There is little wonder that great attention was paid to a young lady’s training in the needle arts.
Paintings and prints, an important category of the decorative arts, are themselves a major source of information about the furnishing of early interiors. As accurate as any photograph, they illustrate how furniture was placed in a room, how curtains were hung and floors covered, how plants were potted or tables set for a meal. These visual records tell us that people 100 or 200 years ago did not use space the same way we do today; their rooms in general contained fewer objects. We also learn that to furnish an early room with pieces belonging to one specific period is to misinterpret the past.
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