Furnishing the Republican Court: Building and decorating Philadelphia homes, 1790--1800. Amy Hudson Henderson

ISBN: 9780549811558

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373 pages


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Furnishing the Republican Court: Building and decorating Philadelphia homes, 1790--1800.  by  Amy Hudson Henderson

Furnishing the Republican Court: Building and decorating Philadelphia homes, 1790--1800. by Amy Hudson Henderson
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This dissertation explores the multiple ways in which late-eighteenth-century elite Americans employed the material culture of their homes as a performative system of visual communication about personal identity, social standing, reputation, andMoreThis dissertation explores the multiple ways in which late-eighteenth-century elite Americans employed the material culture of their homes as a performative system of visual communication about personal identity, social standing, reputation, and political affiliation.

I focus on Philadelphia between 1790 and 1800 when the city served as the temporary seat of the new Federal government and housed what has become known as the Republican Court---the society revolving around the first two presidents, Congress, their families, and associates. Through an investigation of the material culture of this Republican Court, I demonstrate the competing values that shaped the founding generation and explore the many challenges these elite Americans faced in finding unity and consensus in their nascent republic.-The four middle chapters in this dissertation engage different contexts or spaces of the Philadelphia town house and progress from a discussion of the architectural landscape itself and the market place in which architectural ornaments and household furnishings were acquired to the central entertaining spaces within those town houses---drawing and dining rooms---and their collections of furnishings.

Through these various locales and materials, I address the role of objects and the built environment in elite identity formation, the rituals of gentility and civility, the performance of politeness and political sociability, and as visual modes of communication. The houses of elite families in the early republic emerge as material referents to people, places, and relationships beyond their physical walls as well as a visual language Americans manipulated to express not just their own sense of self but also their vision of their countrys future.

By furnishing the Republican Court, leading American families put on display both aristocratic and democratic leanings while simultaneously attempting to define republican virtue and simplicity for their generation.-This study expands the discourse on eighteenth-century domestic architecture to encompass issues of gender and performance and to consider how men and women---together---built and inhabited their homes. In conceiving the house broadly both as a structure and as a container of artifacts, I return women to discussions of creativity and architectural design that are traditionally dominated by male craftsmen, master builders, and mostly male patrons.

Moreover, in narrating how individuals gossiped about, as well as designed and decorated, their built environment, I show architectures performative aspects and how houses in the Republican Court served simultaneously as a backdrop for nation building and as evidence of this negotiated process itself. These houses and their furnishings make visible the rhetoric of gentility, character, and republican virtue that underpinned the competing and often contradictory ideologies that informed Americas earliest national political culture.



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