Two years ago the topic of Italian marriage chests had mesmerised me in this blog. In noble families, marriage in Renaissance Italy involved huge expense by both sides. The parents were obliged to buy costly furniture, clothes and jewels for the young couple, and amongst the most expensive object was a beautifully crafted and painted wedding cassone. This chest was used to store blankets or perhaps clothes at the foot of the marital bed. But more importantly, guests were entertained and family discussions were held in the same space. As the cassone provided the backdrop to the life of the family, the painted decorations on the top and sides of the cassone were carefully chosen, providing both entertainment and instruction.
tournament scene, painted on the front panel
National Gallery London
Tempera on panel, 38 x 130 cm
A delightful panel from a 15th century Italian cassone was on display at the Biennale des Antiquaires at the Grand Palais, Paris in Sept 2012. Presented by Moretti Fine Art, the panel showed some sort of detailed and colourful battle scene, expensively presented and very wide.
I was alerted to this cassone by Country Life magazine of 5th Sept 2012. The arts journalist recorded that the panel had been part of the Earl of Crawford’s estate for generations, until it finally went to public auction in London in 1946. Did the 27th Earl of Crawford need a quick burst of cash? Did he keep the cassone and only sell the front panel? In 1946 the auction house believed the “classical battle scene was in the manner of the Master of the Cassone”. When the same panel was sold again in 1979, it had been re-identified as by “the Master of the Anghiari Battle”.
Left half of battle panel (above)
Right half of battle panel (below)
Florentine cassone panel,By the time this cassone was painted, the era of painting courtly romance or religious themes had largely passed; cultivated families were more likely to select classical mythology or historical themes. However I would love to know why war was thought to be an appropriate theme for a young couple. Surely the sight of deadly weapons and battle horses would have been a sexual turn-off!
45 x 160 cm, 15th century
Moretti Fine Art.
45 x 160 cm, 15th century
Moretti Fine Art.
Gallery president Fabrizio Moretti believed the battle scenes on this panel showed the Roman army clashing with the forces of a rival city-state, perhaps Venice. The martial theme, Moretti believed, implied that the cassone was commissioned by a bride for her groom. It proved the virility of her beloved.
For a cassone theme more related to marriage, see a chest that is in the V&A’s Medievaland Renaissance Galleries. The curators say that marriage chests were normally made in pairs. They were emblazoned with the coats of arms of both families and often decorated with the wedding procession on the front panel. This cassone was made from Central Italian poplar and walnut, joined and nailed, and decorated with modelling in gesso and gilding. The figures were depicted in Burgundian fashions, which were much in vogue in Florence between 1440-50. This chest was bought in 1863, from an English or Italian dealer in Italy who in 1869 sold the V&A the front panel of what could once have been its pair. This item is a rare example of a surviving cassone that retains its original plinth base.
wedding procession on the front panel
My favourite image on top panel of this cassone was where the groom placed the ring on his bride’s finger in the presence of a city dignitary in a red cloak and hat. Clearly the wedding was a secular event which took place in the gardens… and not a priest in sight! On the plinth, the artist painted two pairs of angels holding up the coat of arts of the newly married couple.
None of the museums suggests an origin for decorative cassone art. But consider the suggestion from Early Renaissance Painting in Italy that artist Paolo Uccello (1397-1475) may have been the inspiration. Uccello was best known for the three panels in his famous Battle of San Romano (1438-55), painted for the Medici Palace. The paintings were intended as wall decorations and as such resembled tapestries: Uccello was only interested in creating a small box-like space for the action, since he ended the background with a tapestry-like composition of men and animals. His main concern was with the rhythmic arrangement of the elements of the composition across the surface, an emphasis which he underlined with a repetition of arcs and circles. Uccello's focus on the decorative and linear aspects of painting had a significant impact on the cassone painters of Florence. So, I imagine, did his dates.