Imagined Interiors: Representing the Domestic Interior since the Renaissance Edited by Jeremy Aynsley and Charlotte Grant.V&A Publications, 2006.£45.00
This book is the outcome of a five-year collaboration between the Royal College of Art, the V&A and the Bedford Centre for the History of Women at Royal Holloway College.
Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), and undertaken under the auspices of its Centre for the Study of the Domestic Interior, the project brought together scholars from a range of disciplines to explore ways in which the domestic interior has been represented and interpreted in the arts and literature of the past six centuries.
There are three parts to the book: 'Developing a Domestic Culture, 1400-1750', 'The Interior Defined, 16501900' and 'Displaying the Modern Home, 1850 to the Present'. Under each of these headings more specific themes are explored in essays, both long and short, and these build to present fascinating insights into both the evolution of the nature of domestic places and spaces and - as a theme that runs through the whole project - the means by which these have been represented.
The book's strength lies in its diversity of content.
The methods of art historical research are brought to bear in Flora Dennis' study of the interior in 15th- and 16thcentury Italian painting, in John Loughman's examination of the relation of reality and fiction in 17th-century Dutch art, and in an essay on 19thcentury French interiors by Francesca Berry. In the 20th century, Tim Benton brings his familiar expertise in the history of architecture to bear on the representation of modernity.
From a rather different perspective, Charlotte Grant links art history with literary analysis in a revealing study of the use of descriptions of interiors in the British novel from 1720-1900.
Towards the end of the book, Rod Mengham contributes an analysis on the interiors found in British films in the 1930s and 1940s - with a particularly striking image of Richard Hannay's kitchen from Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps.
After all this, it is a bit of a shock to end with Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen and the television makeover, but these programmes have, bizarrely to some, become an important element of contemporary life, and Viviana Narotzky's study nicely locates them in a wider sociological framework.
The texts are supported by many well-reproduced images - some, like interiors by de Hooch and Vermeer, inevitably familiar, other less so. I particularly enjoyed Valloton's Dinner by Lamplight and the two Vuillard paintings - each entitled Pink Interior - that illustrate Francesca Berry's essay in the book.
Inevitably one could suggest other topics for study.
For example, what might be said in this context of the architectural depictions of Rachel Whiteread?
But to say that is only to indicate the success of the project, which would never have been possible without the AHRC's support. Perhaps there will be more to come?
Dean Hawkes is an architect in Cambridge