Rienzi Symposium “Creatures of Comfort: 1650–1950”

Rienzi's 15th Anniversary Symposium

“Creatures of Comfort: 16501950”

September 1921, 2014

Friday, September 19
5:30–7 p.m. (at the MFAH)
Welcome & Keynote Lecture
7:30 p.m. (at Rienzi) Reception

Saturday, September 20
10 a.m.–3:15 p.m. (at the MFAH)
Symposium Presentations

Sunday, September 21
10:30 a.m. –1 p.m. (at the MFAH)
Symposium Presentations

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.

Symposium Presentations: Participants & Topics

Saturday, September 20, 10 a.m.3:30 p.m.

Kim Sweeney, Vicki Myhren Gallery, University of Denver
Our Private Lives: How Dutch 17th-Century Art Impacted Future Generations of Homes and the Idea of Privacy

Elizabeth Dyrud Lyman, Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville 
"Before Her Table in Querpo, With All Her Equipage About Her": Comfortable Women and the Comfort of Their Tea Tables, 1660–1765

Margot Bernstein, Columbia University 
From the Inside Out: Eighteenth-Century Sedan Chairs

Philippe Halbert, Winterthur and the University of Delaware 
Decor and Decorum: Furnishings for a French Colonial Elite, 1690–1760

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

Rachel Zimmerman, University of Delaware 
Luxuries in Remote Places: The Material Culture of the Elite Home in 18th-Century Minas Gerais, Brazil

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

Sunday, September 21, 10:30 a.m.1 p.m.

Diane Ehrenpries, Monticello, Thomas Jefferson Foundation 
Mechanically Inclined: Thomas Jefferson and His Concept of Comfort, 1784–1826

Laura Speers, New York Historical Society 
"Parties on Excursions of Pleasure": New York City and the Rise of Day Resorts, 1800–1840

Ji Eun You, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill 
Classical Comfort at the Sèvres Porcelain Manufactory

Keynote Lecture "The Big World of Comfort"

Friday, September 19, 5:30 p.m.
Brown Auditorium Theater, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1001 Bissonnet
Free with Museum 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.

15th Anniversary Reception

Friday, September 19, 7:30 p.m.
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.

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. Presentations given Saturday–Sunday, September 20–21, 2014, at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

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.