The House of Life and the Memory Palace: Some Thoughts on the Historiography of Interiors

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Interiors evade the neat taxonomies of style and narratives of progress that have traditionally dominated the history of art and architecture. Interiors are temporary arrangements: the meeting places of building, lining, furnishing, and occupation. The historic interior is never a complete, unitary artifact, and the history of interiors possesses no fixed canon. The historic interior may only ever be apprehended through traces and secondary sources. Once an interior has passed away, its constituent elements are incorporated into other interiors; and all interiors, are, to some degree or another, made out of the remnants of others; and this means that the history of the interior can never enjoy the linear clarity of the histories of architecture or product design, which involve to a large part the creation of new artifacts. This article explores the vanished interiors of one palace through the lens of another. The first is The House of Life, an apartment in Rome dwelt in by the writer Mario Praz, which became the subject and the pretext of his autobiography (The House of Life Methuen, 1964). The second is the Memory Palace, the classical rhetorical device explored by Frances Yates in The Art of Memory (Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1966). This ramble through the House of Life as a Memory Palace will be used to consider the structure for a possible history of interiors that, on the one hand, possesses something of the narrative coherence of traditional history, and, on the other, responds to the protean nature of the interior.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)105-117
Number of pages13
JournalInteriors: Design, Architecture and Culture
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2010


  • Decoration
  • Design
  • Architecture
  • Historiography
  • Memory


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