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Consumption and Innovation

This session focuses on the interplay of consumers’ desire for novelties and the efforts of producers to create new goods during the Renaissance and the early modern period. In the last decades the growing interest for material culture has broken down the old division between supply and demand in historical studies, favouring more nuanced analysis. Attention has been given to the role played by state and local institutions with regard to innovation, and to the cultural changes that fostered innovative habits among consumer in urban centres. We will discuss the general trends at a European level, and then focus on two case studies (ceramic and glass) that were at the heart of innovative dynamics in Renaissance Italy.

Seminar Questions

  1. How did producers and consumers interact for the creation of new objects during the Renaissance?
  2. What was the role of public institutions in favouring or hindering innovation of consumer products?
  3. What cultural values underpinned the supply and demand of innovative products in the early modern period?


Core Readings

Karel Davids and Bert De Munck (eds.), Innovation and Creativity in Late Medieval and Early Modern European Cities, Intrduction (London-New York 2016)

Bert De Munk and Anna Bellavitis, ‘Renaissance Cities and the Fabrication of Quality, Fifteenth to Seventeenth Centuries’, in Cities and Creativity from the Renaissance to the Present, ed. by Ilja Van Damme, Bert De Munck and Andrew Miles (New York-London 2018)

Richard A. Goldthwaite, ‘The Economic and Social World of Italian Renaissance Maiolica’, in Renaissance Quarterly, 42 (1989), pp. 1-32

Corinne Maitte, ‘Façon de Venise: Determining the Value of Glass in Early Modern Europe’, in Concepts of Value in European Material Culture, 1500-1900, ed. by Bert De Munck and Dries Lyna (London-New York 2015)

Further Readings

Carlo Marco Belfanti, ‘Between Mercantilism and Market: Privileges for Invention in Early Modern Europe’, Journal of Institutional Economics, 2 (2006), pp. 319-338

Marina Bianchi (ed.), The Active Consumer. Novelty and Surprise in Consumer Choice (London-New York 1998)

Susanna Burghartz, Lucas Burkart, Christine Gottler and Ulinka Rublack (eds.), Materialized Identities in Early Modern Culture, 1450-1750. Objects, Affects, Effects (Amsterdam 2021)

S.R. Epstein and Maarten Praak (eds.), Guilds, Innovation and the European Economy, 1400-1800 (Cambridge 2008)

Philip Gavitt, ‘An Experimental Culture: the Art of the Economy and the Economy of Art under Cosimo I and Francesco I’, in The Cultural Politics of Duke Cosimo I de' Medici, ed. Konrad Eisenbichler (London 2001), pp. 205-221

Richard A. Goldthwaite, ‘The Empire of Things: Consumer Demand in Renaissance Italy’, in Patronage, Art and Society in Renaissance Italy, ed. by Francis W. Kent e Patricia Simons (Oxford 1987), pp. 155-175

Richard A. Goldthwaite, Wealth and the Demand for Art in Renaissance Italy (Baltimore-London 1993)

Patrick McCray, ‘Creating Networks of Skill: Technology Transfer and the Glass Industry of Venice’, Journal of European Economic History, 28 (1999), pp. 301-333

Luca Molà, ‘States and Crafts: Relocating Technical Skills in Renaissance Italy’, in The Material Renaissance, ed. by Evelyn Welch and Michelle O’Malley (Manchester 2007), pp. 133-153

Luca Molà, ‘Material Diplomacy: Venetian Luxury Gifts for the Ottoman Empire in the Late Renaissance’, in Global Gifts. The Material Culture of Diplomacy in Early Modern Eurasia, ed. by Zoltan Biedermann, Anne Gerritsen and Giorgio Riello (Cambridge 2017), pp. 56-87

Carlo Poni, ‘Fashion as Flexible Production: The Strategies of the Lyons Silk Merchants in the Eighteenth Century’, in World of Possibilities. Flexibility and Mass Production in Western Industrialization, ed. by Charles F. Sabel and Jonathan Zeitlin (Cambridge 1997), pp. 37-74

Luke Syson and Dora Thornton, Objects of Virtue. Art in Renaissance Italy (London 2002)

Joan Thirsk, Economic Policy and Projects. The Development of a Consumer Society in Early Modern England, Oxford 1978