Shopping in the Renaissance

Consumer Cultures in Italy, 1400-1600

Evelyn Welch

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Shopping was as important in the Renaissance as it is today. This fascinating and original book breaks new ground in the area of Renaissance material culture, focusing on the marketplace and such related topics as middle-class to courtly consumption, the provision of foodstuffs, and the acquisition of antiquities and holy relics. The book investigates how men and women of different social classes went to the streets, squares, and shops to buy goods they needed and wanted on a daily—or a once-in-a-lifetime—basis, during the Renaissance period.

Evelyn Welch draws on wide-ranging sources to expose the fears, anxieties, and social possibilities of the Renaissance marketplace and to show the impact of these attitudes on developing urban spaces. She considers transient forms of sales such as fairs, auctions, and lotteries as well as consumers themselves. Finally, she explores antiquities and indulgences, both of which posed dramatic challenges to contemporary notions of market value and to the concept of commodification itself.

Evelyn Welch is professor of Renaissance studies, Queen Mary, University of London, and was formerly reader in the history of art, University of Sussex. She is the author of Art and Authority in Renaissance Milan, published by Yale University Press, and of Art in Renaissance Italy.

"In engaging prose, Welch assesses the cultural significance of the marketplace in Renaissance Italy. . . . Adorned with over 200 . . . stunning full-page color plates. . . . Every library should snap up a copy. Highly recommended."—Choice

“…beautifully designed and lavishly illustrated…a book of the broad stroke, anecdotal rather than analytical, which provides a fascinating picture of life in the streets of Renaissance cities. … Welch has managed to convey both the excitement and the tedium that [shopping] can induce, and to portray not only the sights and sounds of the Renaissance marketplace but also its human geography – the greedy and the gullible, the hard workers and the crooks. This is a memorable book, easy to read and often entertaining, which gets right to the heart of what life was like on the streets of Renaissance Italy.” - Mary Hollingsworth, The Art Book

'Evelyn Welch must be congratulated on producing a delectable book which is not only richly illustrated with the kind of provocative paintings that stop you in your tracks, but which also has chapter headings that illuminate and discuss ideas scarcely dealt with by other less learned authors.'---Birmingham Post

"To reconstruct the activity of shopping in the Renaissance, Welch deploys an extraordinarily wide range of material... Her valuable book offers the reader an acute insight into the origins of our present-day consumer culture."---RA Magazine

'... outstanding... written with such a pace that you're hooked before you have a chance to feel scared by the scholarship.'---Kathryn Hughes, The Guardian

"Shopping in the Renaissance is an immaculate slice of scholarship, hung around with the beautiful illustrations that are a signature of publication by Yale University Press. As a happy result, whenever the text threatens to go over your head, you can feast your eyes on exquisite paintings, sketches and artefacts from the 15th to the 18th centuries, secure in the knowledge that you will never, ever be able to afford them for yourself."---The Guardian

'...the real delight of this work lies in its attention to the details of everyday life... Like a thrifty housewife making over a dress with fragments of rich velvet, the reader can piece together from these anecdotes a vivid portrait of a society with an irrepressible eye for a bargain.' - Sally Korman, The Art Newspaper

“[A] fascinating study which turns a common social practice into a compelling subject of research. The author's ability to employ different historical approaches at the same time confirms that cultural, social, economic and art history can enhance each other. . . . Focusing on diverse aspects of theses practices—the people and the institutions involved, the time and the place of shopping, the different types of sale and shopping—Evelyn Welch offers a wide and lively picture of urban communities in Renaissance Italy. … [The] full immersion it offers into the smell and the taste, the sound and the cries, the gestures and the clothes, as well as the stalls and the shops, leaves the reader with the feeling of having taken a delightful trip into the depths of Italian Renaissance cities.”—Claire Judde de Larivière, Reviews in History

“[An] innovative work of social history…[with a] mass of circumstantial, or ‘soft’, evidence that is presented and contextualised as a means of granting the reader access to the activity of shopping in the cities of fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Italy. … [There are] revealing testimonials…many illustrations and plentiful anecdotal evidence. … Renaissance Italy’s fragmented nature, and the fact that much modern scholarship remains parochial and focused on individual centres, makes the breadth of this study one of its most original features. … [An] original and handsome volume…” - Fabrizio Nevola, The Burlington Magazine

"A fascinating cultural history of consumerism in Italy between 1400 and 1600. . . . The book is richly embellished with reproductions of art and architecture that provide a stunning visual experience of the period as well as a documentary basis for the study."—Joanne M. Ferraro, American Historical Review

"[Welch] paints vivid descriptions of the colorful scenes that were typical of the markets, shops, fairs, lotteries, and auctions in Italian towns during this period. . . . Shopping in the Renaissance is a richly detailed, thorough, and intelligent account of the material, cultural, and economic dimensions of consumerism in the Renaissance period. The author has succeeded in the difficult task of demonstrating the economic and social importance of shopping in preindustrial centuries."—Francesca Polese, Business History Review

"Welch's painstaking analysis of often quite disparate archival and visual evidence is quite masterful. . . .  An engaging, illuminating, and wide-ranging book. . . . A visual feast."—Catherine Kovesi, Renaissance Quarterly

"[Welch has] performed a remarkable feat in assembling a wide-ranging body of primary and secondary sources on an elusive subject."—Bruce Boucher, JSAH

"Beautiful, sumptuous even. . . . A multi-layered interpretation not only of the economics of shopping, but of the mindset that surrounded shopping."—Jana Byars, Journal of Social History

"Throughout this well-researched and beautifully illustrated book, Welch offers a remarkably original and thorough interpretation of the complexities of shopping and makes a strong argument that consumption practices were fundamental to contemporary understandings of the social order. . . . Clearly written and conceived. . . . An important addition to studies of consumption and Italian culture. . . . The book will interest a wide range of readers, including scholars of early modern Italy, consumption practices, social, cultural, and economic history, art history, and those concerned with the study of gender and material culture."—Joyce de Vries, Sixteenth Century Journal

‘Welch looks at every side of the argument in her study of central and northern Italy from 1400–1600…[and] conjures up almost tangible pictures of Italians engaging in activity we still do today.’

 Winner of the Wolfson Foundation History Prize 2005

ISBN: 9780300107524
Publication Date: September 29, 2005
256 pages, 6 3/4 x 9 5/8
80 b/w + 40 color illus.