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Consuming Splendor

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Consuming Splendor: Luxury Goods in England, 1580-1680

September 15 through December 31, 2005

Wenceslaus Hollar. Winter. Etching, 1643

Demand for luxury goods—rich fabrics, lacquered furniture, tapestries, chimneypieces, silver, porcelain, crystal, paintings, watches, and fine jewels—grew dramatically in England during the first half of the seventeenth century. Exotic products, such as tobacco, coffee, chocolate, and tea from the Indies, Asia, and Africa penetrated the English market, creating new public spaces and private rituals.  People at many levels of society more time and more money dressing themselves, decorating their houses, and whetting their appetites. To meet increasing demand, the first London shopping malls were created. New goods from home and abroad marked their purchasers as fashionable, cosmopolitan, and, in the words of contemporaries, "modern."


Consuming Splendor examines the ways in which the consumption of luxury goods transformed social practices, royal policies, and the economy in seventeenth-century England. It tells the story of new goods, new aspirations, and new ways to shop; new building, furnishing, and collecting; and the new relationship of luxury, technology, and science. Over the course of the seventeenth century, luxury consumption and the appropriation of artifacts and skills from abroad transformed England into a center of European growth and innovation.


Curators: Linda Levy Peck and Rachel Doggett

John Stalker. A treatise of japanning and varnishing. Oxford, 1688 (Detail).

Additional Information

Learn more about Linda Levy Peck's fascinating book, from Cambridge University Press, about the emergence of a consumer society in seventeenth-century England:

Consuming Splendor: Society and Culture in Seventeenth-Century England (Cambridge University Press, 2005)

Exhibition Highlights

Shops and Goods

Shopping in London

Continental Architecture

Profitable Pleasures

The Royal Society

Rarities as Luxury Goods

East and West

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