In the second half of the eighteenth century, “print rooms”—created by pasting prints and paper ornaments directly onto walls—were a short-lived mode of fashionable English interior decoration. Concurrently, collections of prints continued to be bound into albums or stored in portfolios in private libraries. Although they took different forms, print rooms and print albums shared characteristics that marked them as “enlightened” cultural practices: both featured prints arranged in preconceived aesthetic or intellectual schemes that presented elite, pan-European cultural subjects, imagery, and ideas. Prints in albums or prints on walls could therefore operate as “museums of images”—each format ostensibly encouraged viewers to respond emotionally or intellectually to prints. Yet there is strong evidence to suggest that prints in print rooms and in print collections were perceived differently. This essay draws on the predominantly unpublished journals and correspondence of English collector Elizabeth Seymour Percy, first Duchess of Northumberland (1716–76), to reveal the very different ways in which she described prints in each setting. For her, albums or portfolios of prints were edifying “spaces of enlightenment,” while prints in print rooms performed merely a decorative function.
Enlightened “Museums of Images” or Decorative Displays? Elizabeth Seymour Percy and the Eighteenth-Century Print Room
Louise Voll Box; Enlightened “Museums of Images” or Decorative Displays? Elizabeth Seymour Percy and the Eighteenth-Century Print Room. Eighteenth-Century Life 1 September 2021; 45 (3): 135–157. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00982601-9273027
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