Dora Thornton will be presenting at the Seminar in Renaissance and Early Modern Material Culture on Thursday, April 28 at 6 pm. Her talk is entitled “Wine, Women and the Glory of Venice: Masterpieces of Renaissance Glass.”


Dora Thornton is Curator of Renaissance Europe at the British Museum where she has recently overseen the installation of a new permanent gallery for the Waddesdon Bequest (funded by the Rothschild Foundation). Her book, A Rothschild Renaissance, was published in conjunction with the gallery opening in June 2015. Her other publications include The Scholar in his Study: Ownership and Experience in Renaissance Italy (New Haven and London 1997), and she is the co-author of Objects of Virtue, Art in Renaissance Italy (London 2001), Italian Renaissance Ceramics in The British Museum(London 2009), and Shakespeare: Staging the World (London 2012), which accompanied the exhibition she curated at the British Museum for the Cultural Olympiad and World Shakespeare Festival, in collaboration with the Royal Shakespeare Company. She is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London and a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society. She received her MA in Modern History from Oxford University and her PhD from the Warburg Institute.

At Bard Graduate Center, Thornton will introduce glass objects from the collection in the British Museum and relate them to pieces elsewhere. Looking closely at the glasses themselves, and drawing on a variety of contemporary sources, she will place these pieces in their social and intellectual context. The glasses discussed will include enamelled wine cups made in Murano, which were possibly made to commemorate betrothal and marriage in Renaissance Italy. Exploring these introduces us to women as consumers, as exemplars of feminine virtue and beauty, and as tastemakers, from Isabella d’Este, Marchioness of Mantua to nuns in elite convents. Women also feature on enamelled Venetian glasses, made in Venice and beyond, as advertisements for Venetian society. These images draw on contemporary prints which present deliberately ambiguous images of women as virtuous wives or as the courtesans for which the city was famous—the difficulty of distinguishing between the two was often noted by foreign visitors. It was a source of anxiety as well as titillation in Shakespeare’s Europe and a theme of his Venetian play, Othello. Trying your hand at glass blowing was on the tourist track as early as 1600 and Venetian glass was seen as one of the wonders of the world, a showpiece for contemporary fashion, novelty, and new technologies.