Leo Stefani

PhD student


Thesis: Men at Home – Furniture, Space and Masculinities in Eighteenth-century France

Supervised by Professor Katie Scott

Funded by CHASE/AHRC and the Courtauld Scholarship

My thesis explores eighteenth-century French furniture as a locus for the expression and discipline of masculine identities in the domestic interior. For Rousseau, ‘the male is only male at certain moments, the female is female all her life’ (1762).  By his account female identity is inescapable; by contrast, male identity is mutable and a matter of choice. Rousseau argument was levelled against what he saw as the feminisation of male society. Such views are still found in masculinist rhetoric today, which this thesis hopes to deconstruct with the help of eighteenth-century scholarship and a feminist perspective. By using an intersectional approach to the interpretation of design, space and bodies, this thesis will link objects such as chairs to the expression and discipline of gendered identities.
In the interior, furniture was the primary frame of male identity by virtue of enabling or constraining men to partake of particular social activities. By considering Gender as performative element of identity defined through socially marked features of the body (posture, pose, clothes), I hope to consider the objects design in relation to the spatial bodies it generated. Because scholarship has been concerned with the history of Enlightenment, it has focused on furniture which speaks to enlightenment concerns about the progress of knowledge and technology. My concerns are rather with domestic forms of sociability and self-fashioning. This thesis will explore objects such as chairs, beds, chaises longues, desks and screens. Too often eighteenth-century scholarship has left primary sources unquestioned, as if gender-neutral and unproblematic. A re-examination of L’Art du Menuisier (André-Jacob Roubo, 1769-1774) and L’Encyclopédie (1751-1766)will help in the reconstruction of masculinity as the default gender, one to which property owning was primarily assigned. This will lead me consider the legal notions of gender inscribed in instruments of property transfer such as marriage contracts and probate inventories, a prime source in the history of furniture.


  • PhD Candidate, The Courtauld Institute of Art,
    2018 – Present
  • Ma History of Art, The Courtauld Institute of Art,
    2017-2018 (Distinction)-Special Option: Art, Object, Sense: Crossings in Anthropology and Art History – the case of Eighteenth-century France-Dissertation: From Education to Segregation – Chairs, Body and Space in Eighteenth-century France
  • Ba History of Art and Archaeology , Sorbonne Université (Paris), 2014-2017
    (Third-year Erasmus exchange at the University of Sussex)