Italian Giltwood and Walnut Four-Poster Bedstead, 17th century

17th century, Italian furniture

It is often said that a collector collects in order to build a safe world, an alternative world, a kind of nest.  Sir Harold Acton's bedroom, his childhood bedroom, next to his parents' room, is a place he never moved from.  In a house full of collections, he felt most at home in this intimate space filled with what we can surmise are his most beloved collections.  In this treasure-filled room, the bed is focal point.  It is the sanctum sanctorum of the collector's private room.  The official description provided by the museum tells us that this bed is a seventeenth-century Italian giltwood and walnut four-poster bedstead.

Examining the bed, particularly in the context of such an eclectic collection of beloved items, calls attention to its varied styles and finishes.  The carving of the bedframe, headboard, and footboard, which are ungilded walnut, are distinct from the columns that are finished in gold gilt.  The bedframe and headboard appear to be carved in a different style than the columns.  These columns are topped with 4 urns, which have a different metallic finish than the columns themselves.  This leads us to suspect that the bed is itself a collection of objects, styles, and perhaps even periods.  However, it also seems like a perfect bed for an Anglo-Italian leading the villa life on a hillside above Florence.

The bed's place within the composition of the room is also interesting.  Two of the massive columns frame the putti under which there is a painting of the madonna and child, a visual blending of the classical and the Catholic.  It is a composed world, the symmetry of which provides a structure that unites its disparate parts.  For Acton, it is both a beautiful and sacred space.  (Might the bed's columns be repurposed from an architectural element in a church?)  The space feels like the space of an aesthete who admires the beauty of the pagan, the power of the Catholic, and the majesty of connoisseurship.

-Barbara Black (Skidmore College) and Renata Kobetts Miller (City College of New York)

Associated Place(s)

Event date:

circa. 1600