Rienzi's 15th Anniversary Symposium "Creatures of Comfort: 1650–1950"

Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

In examining the period from the mid-1600s to the mid-1900s, the symposium asks: How and why did the concept of comfort evolve and become an important part of European and American cultures? What objects, inventions and aesthetic or cultural changes improved people's physical or emotional well-being simply by making life more comfortable?

Rienzi houses a significant collection of European paintings, sculpture, furniture, porcelain and silver from the mid-17th through mid-19th centuries. Built in 1953 as a residence and opened to the public as a house museum in 1999, Rienzi evokes the fine European country houses of the 18th century with formal, yet comfortable, furnishings, entertaining and private spaces, and rooms specifically designed for the enjoyment of family and friends. Rienzi also retains modern amenities such as central air conditioning, a dishwasher, an elevator, and other luxurious essentials that defined the ultimate comforts of America in the 1950s. 

The symposium is free with general admission to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Each day must be registered for separately.

Sept. 19 - Welcome and Keynote lecture at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (5:30-7 p.m.)
Key inventions in domains that encompassed plumbing as well as furniture were made in late-17th-century Paris. They ranged from novel kinds of seat furniture — the sofa in particular — to new upholstery techniques and to a revolutionary sartorial style adopted by men and women alike: The dressing gown. These inventions were first noted at the French court and in the grandest Parisian residences. However, inventories of Parisian merchants from the turn of the 18th century indicate just how quickly the ideas for a new sense of comfort caught on and began to spread through the ranks of French society. Presented by Joan DeJean, cultural historian and trustee professor of Romance languages, University of Pennsylvania. 

Sept. 19 - Reception at Rienzi (7:30 p.m.)
Celebrate Rienzi's 15th anniversary as a house museum. Enjoy a wine-and-cheese reception, meet symposium speakers and emerging scholars, and take an open-house tour of the Rienzi Collection. Reception tickets are $25 adults, and $20 students, senior adults and MFAH members. Valet parking included.

Sept. 20 (10 a.m.-3:15 p.m.) and Sept. 21 (11 a.m.-1 p.m.) Presentation Participants and Topics

  • Kim Sweeney, "Our Private Lives: How Dutch 17th Century Art Impacted Future Generations of Homes and the Idea of Privacy"
  • Elizabeth Lyman, "'Before Her Table in Querpo, With All Her Equipage About Her': Comfortable Women and the Comfort of Their Tea Tables 1660-1765"
  • Margot Bernstein, "Inside out (and round and round): Eighteenth-Century Sedan Chairs that Take Interior Design Out(side)"
  • Philippe Halbert, "Décor and Decorum: Furnishings for a French Colonial Elite 1690-1760"
  • Katy Werlin, "Natural Comforts: English Rococo Silks and the Private World"
  • Rachel Zimmerman, "Luxuries in Remote Places: The Material Culture of the Elite Home in Eighteenth-Century Minas Gerais, Brazil"
  • Ji Eun You, "Classical Comfort at the Sèvres Porcelain Manufactory"
  • Diane Ehrenpries, "Mechanically Inclined: Thomas Jefferson and his Concept of Comfort, 1784-1826"
  • Laura Speers, "'Parties on excursions of pleasure': New York City and the Rise of Day Resorts, 1800-1840"
  • Shelley Selim and Shoshana Resnikoff, "Modes of Comfort: Saarinen House and the Live/Work Environment"



1406 Kirby Dr.
Houston, TX 77019


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