A critically acclaimed historian of French culture identifies the moment in modern history when informality and comfort had first become priorities, causing a sudden transformation in the worlds of architecture and interior decoration that would last for centuries.
A critically acclaimed historian of France and French culture identifies the moment in modern history when informality and comfort first became priorities, causing a sudden transformation in the worlds of architecture and interior decoration that would last for centuries.
Today it is difficult to imagine a living room without a sofa. When the first sofas on record were delivered in seventeenth-century France, the result was a radical reinvention of interior space. Symptomatic of a new age of casualness and comfort, the sofa ushered in an era known as the golden age of conversation; as the first piece of furniture designed for two, it was also considered an invitation to seduction. At the same moment came many other changes in interior space we now take for granted: private bedrooms, bathrooms, and the original living rooms.
None of this could have happened without a colorful cast of visionaries—legendary architects, the first interior designers, and the women who shaped the tastes of two successive kings of France: Louis XIV’s mistress the Marquise de Maintenon and Louis XV’s mistress the Marquise de Pompadour. Their revolutionary ideas would have a direct influence on realms outside the home, from clothing to literature and gender relations, changing the way people lived and related to one another for the foreseeable future.
Joan DeJean is the author of nine books on French literature, history, and culture of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. She is Trustee Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, where she has taught for eighteen years. She divides her time between Philadelphia and Paris.