Objects and gifts as examples of 18th century good
The sources for this essay are to be found in a private archive of correspondence dating back to the period 1819-1878. These letters, all written by women, are housed at Empoli (in the province of Florence), and belonged to Vincenzo and Antonio Salvagnoli Marchetti, politicians close to Bettino Ricasoli. This was an age of limited financial resources, and the living conditions account for the widespread importance attributed to objects. During the eighteenth century, however, women became the central figures in families and in their homes. The control that they began to exercise in these areas, initially for economic purposes, led to a development of aesthetic taste, in their care for decoration. A special place among the cult-objects was dedicated to portraits, which were not just a part of the furnishings: their supply and demand aroused constant interest, and they became active factors of socialisation. Research reveals that the small objects exchanged in social contacts were countless: a female leadership emerged in the romantic good manners responsible for chosing – or, indeed, often for constructing – the objects, and for the addition of discreet descriptions, which thus opened the way to dialogue. This female behaviour was to be found at different social levels, and contributed in some measure to the formation of contemporary society.