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HAPPY SHOPPERS: New show lights up origins of our modern obsessions

English silk shoes, bound with ribbon and embroidered
How many places can you buy a Marc Jacobs bag in your city? One? Ten? Several hundred? Almost instant access to luxury goods is woven through modern life in a way that makes it hard to imagine a different situation, but of course it wasn’t always like this.
A major new show, ‘Treasured Possessions from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment’ , at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge promises to show, through some 300 stunning objects,  how we first fell in love with shopping, and to take us back to an age when our belongings were made by hand and passed down through the generations.
The journey starts with bespoke Renaissance luxuries made in glass, bronze and maiolica. Soon the impact of global trade changed European habits and expectations. Shoppers were seduced by the glamour of the exotic; they lusted after eastern objects, Arab designs, and became obsessed with all things Chinese and Japanese. New world products like tea, chocolate and sugar, powered frenetic trade. Commerce led to constant innovation and new technologies. In a single generation the idea of luxury was flipped on its head from being the preserve of the elite, to a universal desire. ‘Populuxe’ – popular luxury – was born. By the Enlightenment these many objects that were displayed in the home and worn on the body had transformed the look and feel of the world, and allowed for the creation of masterpieces in silk and silver, pearwood and porcelain.
On the eve of the Fitzwilliam Museum’s 200 year anniversary in 2016, over 80% of the objects in the exhibition are taken from its reserves. For the first time, visitors will be able to see some of the Fitzwilliam’s least-known treasures, from a silver pocket-watch shaped like a skull to the most fabulous pair of bright yellow embroidered high heels.
The exhibition has been co-curated by Dr Victoria Avery of the Fitzwilliam Museum, and Dr Melissa Calaresu, Dr Mary Laven and Professor Ulinka Rublack from the History Faculty of the University of Cambridge.
The show will be complemented by two companion exhibitions ‘Close-up and personal: eighteenth-century gold boxes from the Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Collection’ (a loan show from the V&A) and ‘A Young Man’s Progress’ by photographer Maisie Broadhead, a fictional modern narrative inspired by the costume-book of Matthäus Schwarz, a sixteenth-century German accountant, who recorded the clothes he wore throughout his life in what has become known as ‘The First Book of Fashion’.




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