The Credenza at the Intersection of Artisanal and Industrial Production in Italy’s Interwar Period (1923–1940)
I am a design historian with an interest in 20th century design, furniture and textiles across Italy and the UK. My work on the MA focused mainly on furniture, and I have completed extensive archival work for the Furniture, Textiles and Fashion department at the V&A.
For my object study, I selected a 16th century ‘hat rack’ purchased by the V&A in 1891 from the Florentine antique dealer Stefano Bardini. This study allowed me to come in close scrutiny with Italian Renaissance domestic artefacts and culture. In addition, the history of the V&A’s collection became a key element of my research process. Prior to the pandemic, I travelled to the Bardini’s archives in Florence to reconstruct the correspondence covering the relationship between the South Kensington Museum and the antique dealer with the intention of making my findings available to the public through the V&A archives.
My MA dissertation 'The Taste of Craft: The credenza at the intersection of artisanal and industrial production in Italy’s interwar period (1923 – 1940)' sets out to unpack the complex and intertwined issues of artisanal and industrial production that dominated Italy’s design scene in the interwar period. Few studies have been dedicated solely to retracing the events and polemics that originated from what Ettore Sottsass Jr. described in 1947 as a ‘deep rift’ emerging between craft and industry. The objective of this thesis is to gain, through a series of documentary sources, an understanding of how Italy’s longstanding and treasured craft tradition had become a secondary element to the post-Second World War iconic design productions.
The research process follows an object-based narrative by examining the 'credenza'; the domestic item of furniture used in Italy since the Renaissance for food serving, storage and the display of plates and vases. Its British equivalent is the sideboard or dresser. Until the turn of the 20th century, 'credenze' were intrinsically regional productions – this study shows how considerable challenges were posed to craft with the onset of industrial production, and the search for a national design language. Artisanal manufacturing lies at the core of Italian applied arts and during the early and mid-part of the 20th century ways had to be found for craft to co-exist alongside industrial production.