In Sparkling Company: Glass and the Costs of Social Life in Britain During the 1700s

Through January 2, 2022
Changing Exhibitions Gallery

In the 1700s, Britain was a vibrant and commercial nation. Its growing cities were hubs of sociability, scientific advancement, trade, and finance.

From glittering costume and elaborately presented confectionery, to polished mirrors and dazzling chandeliers, glass helped define the social rituals and cultural values of the period. While innovations in glass delighted the wealthy, the material also bore witness to the ambitions of colonization and the horrors of the African slave trade. Glass beads were traded for human lives and elegant glass dishes, baskets and bowls held sweet delicacies made with sugar produced by enslaved labor. Underpinning Britain’s prosperity were aggressive foreign trade policies, colonization and a far-reaching economy of enslavement, the profits of which funded the pleasures and innovations of the fashionable world.

Beginning in front of a mirror, part of a magnificent silver-gilt dressing service made for the Countess of Portland in about 1700, learn how the elite were prepared for public view. See the dazzling clothes and accessories worn by the ‘polished’ individual and understand the rules that governed how they behaved. Enter a specially commissioned virtual reality reconstruction of the remarkable and innovative glass-paneled drawing room designed for the Duke and Duchess of Northumberland in 1775, an interior that hasn’t been seen for nearly 200 years. Become immersed in the glittering social life of the British elite and feel the tension between the exuberance of the fashionable world and the human price of such sparkling company.

Through a lens of glass, see what it meant to be ‘modern’ in the 1700s, and what it cost.

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Meet the Curator

Christopher Maxwell

Curator of Early Modern Glass

Featured Publication

The Glass Drawing Room Virtual Reality Experience

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