MEDICEAN ASPIRATIONS IN AMERICA: The Impact of William H. Vanderbilt's New York Drawing-room on American Palace Décor Open Access
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In the second half of the nineteenth century there was a shift in Americans' self perception. While Americans in the colonial period aimed to establish themselves as the equivalent of English landed gentry, a newly wealthy American class after the Civil War strived to establish themselves as a new American aristocracy through an ambitious building campaign in keeping with the Renaissance noble families of Florence, including the Medici. With these new homes came commissions for equally ambitious and impressive interiors, especially drawing-rooms, focused on transferring Europe's cultural heritage to America establishing both a false sense of an American lineage as well as a setting that society responded to by taking on their desired roles, which became a hallmark of the Gilded Age. Among the earliest examples of an American interior to adapt and utilize decoratively mock coats of arms and impresa of various European families, most notable of the Medici family, to raise the status of its patron through association, was the William H. Vanderbilt celebrated drawing-room at 640 Fifth Avenue, New York. It established a successful precedent that others imitated in full or in part, in aspects of their decorating in the period between 1880 and the close of the century. Promoted through Mr. Vanderbilt's own 1882-83 multi-volume publication, Mr. Vanderbilt's House and Collections, the drawing-room established a benchmark in American's attempt to establish an American aristocracy through interior design. This room marked the beginning of a new era of interior design and advertising in America that established unique new trends, promoted key design firms, and inspired a chain of commissions. This examination pulls from materials from relevant interiors; surviving bills and correspondence between vendors and clients; period auction catalogues, and newspaper articles to link other interiors for and purchases by other robber barons to William H. Vanderbilt's drawing-room, establishing a fresh perspective for understanding the social importance assigned to interior decoration and its emulation.