The interior decoration depicted in this drawing is extremely fashionable for an eighteenth-century home. This design exhibits the quintessential light and airy Rococo features of arabesques, s- and c- scrolls, vegetal motifs and swags, all with the appearance of symmetry. The layout of the boiserie, or wall paneling, aids in the creation of symmetry within the library. Though the panels on either side of the bookshelves are not identical, the mirror and small desk are situated in a way which reflects the ornamentation of the opposing panel, maintaining an overall balance. The inclusion of the statuettes, ewers and globe reinforce the proposed balance of the interior. These objects also reflect the intellect of the patron and show him as a man of contemplation with an understanding of the classics.

Though Rococo is often considered a feminine style, the library design depicted here is almost certainly intended for a male user. The tradition of learned men keeping a private space for both education and contemplation on a variety of subjects can be traced to the early Renaissance with the keeping of a studiolo or Kunstkammer. The ewers, statuettes and globe displayed on the top of the bookshelves are among the type of objects that would have been found in this library’s predecessors because of their masterful and interesting craftsmanship and classical references.

Further identification of this space as masculine comes from the eighteenth-century practice of salons. Many of the leading Enlightenment-era philosophers such as Montesquieu, Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Diderot would attend these salons, a relatively new concept, where they would discuss their thoughts alongside artists, writers and other thinkers.  It was through such salons that women received the majority of their philosophical education. Men, meanwhile, of wealth and leisure would be expected to be well-versed on numerous subjects during this period, a base knowledge presumably obtained through many hours reading in the library.

Julia Pelkofsky is a Master’s Fellow in the Department of Drawings, Prints & Graphic Design at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.  She is currently working on her MA in the History of Decorative Arts and Design at Parsons, the New School for Design.

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