Through the keyhole...Renaissance style

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The Independent Online

They were the iPods, ornaments and Ikea sofas of their day: the everyday gadgets and household items that lived alongside - and in some cases inspired - Renaissance Italy's finest artists.

This week, the Victoria and Albert Museum unveils an exhibition dedicated to the little-known domestic world in which Donatello, Carpaccio, Botticelli and Titian first picked up their paintbrushes. Some of their most important paintings will be displayed in a gallery adapted to recreate the affluent urban homes in which they were originally displayed. It contains rare examples of the fireplaces, fabrics and furniture coveted by the yuppies of the period.

Highlights range from a priceless Lippi oil painting - thought to be the first Italian portrait depicting an interior setting - to the oldest surviving pair of Italian spectacles. The exhibition also shows a 16th-century baby-walker, together with personal items such as metal bodices, pastry cutters and an ear-cleaner.

"Looking at the interior of Renaissance urban palaces, and the humble objects they contained, reveals an extraordinary amount about the fine art the period produced," said the co-curator Flora Dennis. "However, this is the first time anywhere in the world that an exhibition has been dedicated to this subject.

"Many of the most important artworks that we now associate with the Renaissance began their lives within a purely domestic setting. The aim of this exhibition is to place these beautiful items back in their original context."

The V&A's exhibition, At Home in Renaissance Italy, opens on Thursday. It is the result of a five-year collaboration between Dennis and her co-curator, Marta Ajmar-Wollheim, and contains hundreds of objects that have never previously left their native country. "The items come from a mixture of private collections and both local and larger museums," said Ajmar-Wollheim. "We spent six months living in Italy, and touring around some of the galleries and museums that you maybe wouldn't usually think of looking in.

"A lot of the items that we ended up loaning were actually sitting in storage, and as a result, this is the first time they have been seen publicly for many years. It is certainly the first time they have been seen together with these sort of artworks."

As a result of their research, the V&A has also reunited two halves of Paolo Veronese's double portrait of the Da Porto-Thiene family, one of the grandest families of Renaissance Vicenza. The paintings were originally in their family home, the Palazzo da Porta, but have been separated for nearly three centuries.

The exhibition also includes a life-size recreation of the study in the Palazzo Medici in Florence.