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Gusto for Things

A History of Objects in Seventeenth-Century Rome

Translated by Bradford Bouley and Corey Tazzara with Paula Findlen
With a Foreword by Paula Findlen
We live in a material world—our homes are filled with things, from electronics to curios and hand-me-downs, that disclose as much about us and our aspirations as they do about current trends. But we are not the first: the early modern period was a time of expanding consumption, when objects began to play an important role in defining gender as well as social status. Gusto for Things reconstructs the material lives of seventeenth-century Romans, exploring new ways of thinking about the meaning of things as a historical phenomenon.
Through creative use of account books, inventories, wills, and other records, Renata Ago examines early modern attitudes toward possessions, asking what people did with their things, why they wrote about them, and how they passed objects on to their heirs. While some inhabitants of Rome were connoisseurs of the paintings, books, and curiosities that made the city famous, Ago shows that men and women of lesser means also filled their homes with a more modest array of goods. She also discovers the genealogies of certain categories of things—for instance, books went from being classed as luxury goods to a category all their own—and considers what that reveals about the early modern era. An animated investigation into the relationship between people and the things they buy, Gusto for Things paints an illuminating portrait of the meaning of objects in preindustrial Europe.

392 pages | 38 halftones, 56 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2013

Culture Studies

History: European History, History of Technology


"Ago’s book is an important contribution to the field of seventeenth-century material culture in Rome and will be of interest to a wide range of scholars, from art historians to economic historians, from anthropologists to social historians. . . . Like all pioneering books . . . Gusto for Things has the indisputable merit not only to answer questions but also to stimulate curiosity and new threads of research."

American Historical Review

“A lively translation of the author’s 2006 book in Italian with the same title, Gusto for Things is a welcome addition to the growing number of studies that use material culture as a window to the past.”


“[A] tour-de-force study.”

Journal of Modern History

“[A] meticulously researched book, the result of a fine-grained study of a large number of account books, inventories, wills, testaments, memoirs, correspondence, and other notarial records that document the interactions of Romans with a myriad of things.”

Technology and Culture

“This original and perceptive book goes beyond the classic studies of material culture, from Fernand Braudel to Daniel Roche, by focusing on the relation between people and things, the affection that men and women expressed for their possessions, and the ways in which these objects helped shape their owners’ identities.”

U. P. Burke, Cambridge University

 “This superb translation of Renata Ago’s wonderful book gives the rented dresses and pawned rings, the silk flowers and porcelain cups of late Renaissance and baroque Rome a chance to tell their story—a story of men and women who acquired, used, exchanged, donated, and, above all, had feelings about the objects in their lives. This pathbreaking study looks at the development of an early modern consumer society in the only way that gives this history real texture—through the concrete materiality of things—things of increasing variety and quality distributed according to age-old hierarchies of wealth and gender but also innovative patterns of emerging ‘taste.’ By targeting a leading center of artistic production that was also somewhat marginal to new global trading networks, Ago sharpens our picture of the first capitalist age with all-important local nuance and vivacity.”

Laurie Nussdorfer, Wesleyan University

Table of Contents

Foreword: Early Modern Romans and Their Things, by Paula Findlen
A Note on Roman Coins and Money


Part One. The Nature of Goods
Chapter One. The Function of Goods
Chapter Two. Reflecting on Things

Part Two. Material Goods
Chapter Three. Furniture
Chapter Four. Furnishings and Clothing

Part Three. Immaterial Things
Chapter Five. The Great Collections
Chapter Six. Paintings
Chapter Seven. Ostentatious Things
Chapter Eight. Books


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