Magazine article The Spectator

CULTURE NOTES - Ditching the Dirt

Magazine article The Spectator

CULTURE NOTES - Ditching the Dirt

Article excerpt

Cleanliness was nowhere near godliness in 17th-century Europe - except in Delft, where God came second. The Wellcome Collection's examination of humanity's relationship with dirt begins in Vermeer's city, where thousands of girls with pearl earrings scrubbed hearths for a living. Delftware, those distinctive blue and white ceramic tiles so common in antique shops , was mass-produced because it was so easy to clean and molysmophobic merchants used it to plaster their interiors .

It's tempting to mock the fashion; but the show immediately moves on to Dickens' s London - a miasma of grime, dust and disease.

The obsessive compulsives of Delft were visionaries.

Dirt: the filthy reality of everyday life (at Wellcome , Euston Road, until 31 August) charts the improvement in public health, and its gradual politicisation. …

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