Luxury and Greed

View of Florence. Image by Artur Staszewski, used under a Creative Commons license:

View of Florence by Artur Staszewski (Creative Commons License)

Last week, as a member of the Leverhulme Trust International Luxury Network, I attended the latest of a series of Network conferences. This one was hosted at the Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies at the Villa I Tatti and the European University Institute at the Villa Schifanoia in Florence.

Titled ‘Luxury and the Ethics of Greed in the Early Modern World’ the conference included papers on shifting definitions of luxury in the Renaissance, its relationship to questions of value and exchange, the moral and religious dimensions of the luxury economy, its material manifestations in the Renaissance city, embodied practices relating to the production and consumption of food and cloth, and the vexed question of fakes and pretense.

I was struck by the continuing relevance of ethical questions around conspicuous consumption and display raised in Florence and look forward to continued debate at the Network’s final conference at the Shard in London next February. This will focus on the spaces and places of luxury and engage with historians, theorists and those working in the luxury industries.

Coinciding both with the launch of a Bloomsbury journal devoted to the analysis of luxury and an upcoming Crafts Council exhibition on the theme at the V&A, the network’s sustained investigation and critique of the subject provides a very useful contextualization of this highly contested term at a moment when its effects form a highly visible aspect of contemporary discourse.

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