Luca Cambiaso. Bath scene, fresco. Genoa, Palazzo Pallavicino Gropallo, formerly Spinola Pessagno, first floor (photo Luigino Visconti)

Bath scene, fresco. Genoa, Palazzo Pallavicino Gropallo, formerly Spinola Pessagno, first floor Luca Cambiaso (photo: Luigino Visconti)  

Medical historians have long been aware of the crucial value that renaissance and early modern societies assigned to the prevention of disease, however, we still know very little about the precautions adopted in daily life to promote health. The guides to healthy living that were published in great numbers in the Italian states between 1540 and 1700 offer a mine of information in this regard. Largely published in the vernacular, they provided practical advice about how one should sleep, eat, dress and clean in order to keep healthy but also about how the house should be chosen and built, furnished and managed.

We are conducting an in-depth study of this neglected genre over more than two centuries to explore contemporary understandings of what constituted a healthy domestic interior and to identify changes and continuities in the recommended measures from the introduction of print to the eighteenth century. We relate the dynamic elements in the advice given to changing ideas about the body and humoural physiology but also to broader cultural trends such as changing views of age, gender, social distance and comfort during the period.