Rienzi Symposium “Creatures of Comfort: 1650–1950”

Rienzi's 15th Anniversary Symposium

“Creatures of Comfort: 16501950”

Friday–Sunday, September 1921, 2014

Free with MFAH Admission

Rienzi, the house museum for European decorative arts of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, celebrates its 15th anniversary as a public collection with the symposium “Creatures of Comfort: 1650–1950.”

In examining the period from the mid-1600s to the mid-1900s, the symposium asks: How and why did the concept of comfort evolve and become an important part of European and American cultures? What objects, inventions, and aesthetic or cultural changes improved people's physical or emotional well-being simply by making life more comfortable? 

Rienzi houses a significant collection of European paintings, sculpture, furniture, porcelain, and silver from the mid-17th through mid-19th centuries. Built in 1953 as a residence and opened to the public as a house museum in 1999, Rienzi evokes the fine European country houses of the 18th century with formal, yet comfortable, furnishings, entertaining and private spaces, and rooms specifically designed for the enjoyment of family and friends. Rienzi also retains modern amenities such as central air conditioning, a dishwasher, an elevator, and other luxurious essentials that defined the ultimate comforts of America in the 1950s.

The symposium is free with General Admission to the MFAH. Each day must be registered for separately. To purchase advance MFAH General Admission tickets and register for an optional lunch and the 15th Anniversary Reception at Rienzi click the dates below:

Friday, September 19
Saturday, September 20
Sunday, September 21

There are three options for boxed lunches on Saturday, September 20, Vegetarian (fresh mozzarella, tomato & basil), Classic Chicken Salad, and Turkey & Havarti. All boxed lunches include fresh fruit salad, pasta salad, and a cookie. 

September 20 and 21 Presentation Participants and Topics

Kim Sweeney, "Our Private Lives: How Dutch 17th Century Art Impacted Future Generations of Homes and the Idea of Privacy"

Elizabeth Lyman, "'Before Her Table in Querpo, With All Her Equipage About Her': Comfortable Women and the Comfort of Their Tea Tables 1660-1765"

Margot Bernstein, "'Inside out (and round and round)': Eighteenth-Century Sedan Chairs that Take Interior Design Out(side)"

Philippe Halbert, "Décor and Decorum: Furnishings for a French Colonial Elite 1690-1760"

Katy Werlin, "Natural Comforts: English Rococo Silks and the Private World"

Rachel Zimmerman, "Luxuries in Remote Places: The Material Culture of the Elite Home in Eighteenth-Century Minas Gerais, Brazil"

Ji Eun You, "Classical Comfort at the Sèvres Porcelain Manufactory"

Diane Ehrenpries, "Mechanically Inclined: Thomas Jefferson and his Concept of Comfort, 1784-1826"

Laura Speers, "'Parties on excursions of pleasure': New York City and the Rise of Day Resorts, 1800-1840"

Shelley Selim and Shoshana Resnikoff, "Modes of Comfort: Saarinen House and the Live/Work Environment"


Keynote Lecture: Friday, September 19, 5:30 p.m.
"The Big World of Comfort"
(Brown Auditorium Theater, MFAH)

Free with MFAH Admission. Open Seating.

Key inventions in domains that encompassed plumbing as well as furniture were made in late-17th-century Paris. They ranged from novel kinds of seat furniture—the sofa in particular—to new upholstery techniques, and to a revolutionary sartorial style adopted by men and women alike: the dressing gown. These inventions were first noted at the French court and in the grandest Parisian residences. However, inventories of Parisian merchants from the turn of the 18th century indicate just how quickly the ideas for a new sense of comfort caught on and began to spread through the ranks of French society.

Speaker: Joan DeJean, cultural historian and trustee professor of Romance languages, University of Pennsylvania; author of books including The Essence of Style: How the French Invented High Fashion, Fine Food, Chic Cafes, Styles, Sophistication, and Glamour; The Age of Comfort: When Paris Discovered Casual and the Modern Home Began; and How Paris Became Paris: The Invention of the Modern City.

Reception: Friday, September 19, 7 p.m. (Rienzi)
Celebrate Rienzi's 15th anniversary as a house museum! Enjoy a wine-and-cheese reception, meet symposium speakers and emerging scholars, and take an open-house tour of the Rienzi Collection. Reception tickets: $25 adults; $20 students, senior adults, MFAH members. Valet parking included.

To purchase reception tickets, register for the symposium and select the "add on" option available on September 19. Click here for the September 19 registration link.


Rienzi’s 15th Anniversary Symposium receives generous funding from the Houston Antiques Dealers Association Endowment.

Call for Papers

“Creatures of Comfort: 1650–1950”
Master's and doctoral students and emerging scholars submit a 400-word abstract outlining a 20-minute presentation, along with a CV, by June 1, 2014. Selected participants notified by July 1, 2014. Participants receive a $600 stipend for travel and lodging. All presentations are given on Saturday and Sunday, September 20–21, 2014, at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

Possible themes of investigation may include, but are not limited to: Architecture, Costume, Design, Dining, Economics, Etiquette, Gender, Interiors, Leisure Activities, Privacy, Technology, Travel.

► Symposium Information Sheet (PDF)
► More information: rienzisymposium@mfah.org

Rienzi’s 15th Anniversary Symposium receives generous funding from the Houston Antiques Dealers Association Endowment.