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Panel - The Return of Ulysses (cassone panel)
  • The Return of Ulysses (cassone panel)
    Sienese artist close to Liberale da Verona
  • Enlarge image

The Return of Ulysses (cassone panel)

  • Object:

    Panel

  • Place of origin:

    Siena (painted)

  • Date:

    ca. 1475 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Sienese artist close to Liberale da Verona (painted by)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    tempera on poplar panel

  • Museum number:

    5792-1860

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

A landscape with Penelope weaving in a castle at left, a man bording a ship with his horse at centre, a walled city beyond, two men walk a country road carrying nets and a walking stick in the right foreground, three nude youths swim and fish at far right while three ships sail towards the city in the distance.This fragment of a cassone or wedding chest (the key hole for locking still visible at the top) is painted in the early style of Liberale da Verona, (ca. 1445-1527/9), an Italian illuminator, painter and woodcut designer. As a young artist he was based in Siena, where his work on a group of choir-books for the cathedral demonstrates his originality as an illuminator; in or soon after 1476 he returned to Verona, where he established himself as one of the city’s major painters. In his Sienese works Liberale adopted the delicate blond figure types of Francesco di Giorgio and Neroccio, often giving them elaborate hairdo's including the almost helmet-like frizzy coiffure sported by the youths in the two panels in the Metropolitan Museum of ca. 1475 and the bathing youths in 5792-1860. This or wedding chest appropriately depicts the Story of Penelope and Odysseus (Ulysses), the king of Ithaca. In Homer's Odyssey, Penelope keeps her suitors at bay during Odysseus' twenty year absence by devising a trick, claiming she will only choose one of them upon completion of a burial shroud for Odysseus's father Laertes, she secretly undoes part of the shroud every night. Here Penelope is shown spinning in her house on the left while her husband's ship is finally arriving. Traditionally associated with faithfulness and chastity, Penelope is often evoked in furniture commissioned on the occasion of a wedding or for a woman's bedchamber as a model of feminine virtue.

Physical description

A landscape with Penelope weaving in a castle at left, a man bording a ship with his horse at centre, a walled city beyond, two men walk a country road carrying nets and a walking stick in the right foreground, three nude youths swim and fish at far right while three ships sail towards the city in the distance

Place of Origin

Siena (painted)

Date

ca. 1475 (painted)

Artist/maker

Sienese artist close to Liberale da Verona (painted by)

Materials and Techniques

tempera on poplar panel

Dimensions

Height: 56 cm estimate, Width: 177.8 cm estimate, Height: 38.7 cm painted surface, Width: 114.3 cm painted surface

Object history note

Purchased, 1860

Historical significance: Liberale (Bonfanti) da Verona, (ca. 1445-1527/9) was an Italian illuminator, painter and woodcut designer. As a young artist he was based in Siena, where his work on a group of choir-books for the cathedral demonstrates his originality as an illuminator; in or soon after 1476 he returned to Verona, where he established himself as one of the city’s major painters. In his Sienese works Liberale adopted the delicate blond figure types of Francesco di Giorgio and Neroccio, often giving them elaborate hairdo's including the almost helmet-like frizzy coiffure sported by the youths in the two panels in the Metropolitan Museum (1986.147; 43.98.8) of ca. 1475 and the bathing youths in 5792-1860. This fragment of a cassone or wedding chest (the key hole for locking still visible at the top) appropriately depicts the Story of Penelope and Odysseus (Ulysses), the king of Ithaca. In Homer's Odyssey, Penelope keeps her suitors at bay during Odysseus' twenty year absence by devising a trick, claiming she will only choose one of them upon completion of a burial shroud for Odysseus's father Laertes, she secretly undoes part of the shroud every night. Traditionally associated with faithfulness and other feminine virtues, Penelope is often evoked in furniture commissioned on the occasion of a wedding.

Historical context note

'Cassone' is the Italian term generally used for large, lavishly decorated chests such as this made in Italy from the 14th through the 16th centuries. Wealthy households needed many chests, but the ornate cassoni, (pl.) painted and often combined with pastiglia decoration, were usually commissioned in pairs when a house was renovated for a newly married couple and were ordered, together with other furnishings, by the groom. Florence was the main centre of production, though cassoni were also produced in Siena and occasionally in the Veneto and elsewhere. Cassoni were generally decorated with colorful paintings on three sides and, sometimes, the underside of the lid. The bride used the chests to store her trousseau; items of linen, underclothes, purses, combs, belts, towels, and devotional books. Until about 1460, it was customary, particularly in Florence, to parade these chests through public streets, after this time however, strict sumptuary laws encouraged families to restrict their wedding celebrations to palace courtyards or loggias. The depiction of triumphal processions in the later half of the fifteenth century may be imaginative re-creations of abandoned practices and traditions. By the 19th century, many wedding chests had been dismantled and sold to tourists, especially British and Americans who developped a particular fondness for Florence.

The Pastiglia decoration on the sides
Pastiglia

Italian term used to describe a form of decoration applied to furniture such as cassone and, in particular, small caskets. Pastiglia decoration was made from white powder formed when ground lead was exposed to vinegar vapour in a sealed jar. It was then mixed with egg white to make a malleable paste; and lead matrices (moulds) were used to stamp out relief figures or decorative motifs, which were applied with rabbit-skin glue to the gilding.

Descriptive line

Cassone panel painted with a scene from the story of Ulysses and Penelope, Sienese artist close to Liberale da Verona, about 1475

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Kauffmann, C.M. Catalogue of Foreign Paintings, I. Before 1800. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1973, p. 265, cat. no. 328.
Inventory of Art Objects Acquired in the Year 1860. Inventory of the Objects in the Art Division of the Museum at South Kensington, Arranged According to the Dates of their Acquisition. Vol I. London: Printed by George E. Eyre and William Spottiswoode for H.M.S.O., 1868, p. 29
John Hungerford Pollen, Ancient and modern furniture and woodwork [London] : Published for the Committee of Council on Education, by Chapman and Hall,[1875] (printed by Virtue and Co. Ltd.)
Paul Schubring, Cassoni; truhen und truhenbilder der italienischen frührenaissance. Ein beitrag zur profanmalerei im quattrocento Leipzig, K.W. Hiersemann, 1915.

Production Note

Described by Kauffmann as 'Sienese School' in 1973

Materials

Tempera; Poplar

Techniques

Painting

Subjects depicted

Castles; Weaving loom; Weaving; Horse; Fishing; Ships

Categories

Marriage; Furniture; Paintings; Hair and hairstyles; Containers; Medieval and renaissance

Collection

Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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