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Cassone - The Triumph of Love and Two Lovers
  • The Triumph of Love and Two Lovers
    Martini, Francesco di Giorgio, born 1439 - died 1501
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The Triumph of Love and Two Lovers

  • Object:

    Cassone

  • Place of origin:

    Siena (made)

  • Date:

    1469-1500 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Martini, Francesco di Giorgio, born 1439 - died 1501 (painter)
    Landi, Neroccio de', born 1447 - died 1500 (painter)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Carved and gilded gesso on wood, painted in tempera

  • Credit Line:

    Given by HRH Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll

  • Museum number:

    W.68-1925

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Francesco di Giorgio Martini (bapt 1439-1501) was a Sienese architect, engineer, painter, illuminator, sculptor, medallist, theorist and writer. He and members of his workshop produced numerous cassoni or wedding chests from the end of the 1460s which reveal Francesco’s interest in narrative and taste for the classically inspired representation of architecture and cities. He worked closely with Neroccio de’ Landi from around 1469 until 1474. This cassone appears to have been painted using designs by the master in his workshop during his period of collaboration with Neroccio. It can be compared for example with two similar cassoni also containing triumphal chariots at the Museo Stibbert, Florence.
This work was previously described as representing Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. However, the youthful uncrowned youth who sits with the queen is not convincingly identified with the King who is generally represented as older, bearded and crowned. The scene may tentatively be identified as representing Dido, the founder and first Queen of Carthage and her love, the Trojan hero Aeneas. The scene on the left may illustrate Dido's procession to the Temple of Juno and at right, the meeting of Aeneas and Dido and an allusion to the subsequent Banquet with the Trojans, all recounted in Book I of Virgil's Aeneid. Further, the attention to architecture may also allude to Dido’s role as the ‘builder’ of Carthage. The subject remains however a subject of debate and is described more generally as 'A Triumph of Love' as suggested by the triumphal chariot at left and 'Two Lovers.'
On the sides are coats of arms that have not yet been identified. On the back is a sketch of a reclining female nude. With the cassone placed against the wall, this would have remained mostly unseen, and was no doubt painted for the artist’s own amusement. Although the earlier whereabouts of this cassone is unknown, it was given as a wedding present to Princess Louise (1848–1939), Queen Victoria’s artistically gifted daughter, when she married the Marquis of Lorne (later 9th Duke of Argyll) in 1871.

Physical description

A large rectangular, gilded chest of sarcophagus form with a raised top with scrollwork design, the top and the lower part moulded, standing on four lion paw feet (halved at the back). The front feet are set an angle of 45 degrees, with a large acanthus leaf above. On the front is an oblong painted panel representing the Queen of Sheba’s journey and her banquet with Solomon; flanking the front panel, on either side is a nude male figure in high relief (the left side figure with a stick) holding a painted shield of arms, against a textured background, flanked by two fluted pilasters. On either sides are painted the shields of arms: 1) sable an eagle displayed gules 2) gules a lion rampant sable. There is a single fluted pilaster on each side, at the front corner.The lid is inset and hinged in front of a full-width, plain fixed board.

At left, a queen sits enthroned on a triumphal chariot drawn by two white horses towards a city gate; at right, she sits enthroned with an elegantly dressed young man on a raised podium sheltered by a baldachin; throngs of beautiful young men and women surround the structure, behind them are several 'all'antica' (ancient style) Renaissance buildings.

On the unfinished wood surface of the cassone back there is a monochrome brush drawing of a reclining, nude woman.

The interior plain, without obvious sign of a textile lining. The underside of the lid painted in a modern off-white tone.

Gilding
Water gilding over a thick gesso layer and dark red bole. The lid, frieze and antependium are worked with low relief incised designs. The frieze antependium are worked with a rod with spiral ribbon design about a high relief 'iron' chain.

Construction
Dovetailed poplar(?) boards (each board made up of two horizontally-grained butted planks) with visible warp to the front board. The figures (apparently of wood and gesso) and pilasters applied. The bottom boards nailed up. (The original skirting of the main carcase appears to survive and extends 11.5cm below the level of the chest floor.) The lockplate removed and patched. The lid held on two modern hinges, but there is evidence of earlier hinges. The three external painted 'panels' appear to have been painted directly onto the carcase boards.

Dating
15th century: painted panels, main carcase and bottom boards
19th century: lid, base mouldings and feet; visible gilding; possibly the image of a reclining woman.

Place of Origin

Siena (made)

Date

1469-1500 (made)

Artist/maker

Martini, Francesco di Giorgio, born 1439 - died 1501 (painter)
Landi, Neroccio de', born 1447 - died 1500 (painter)

Materials and Techniques

Carved and gilded gesso on wood, painted in tempera

Dimensions

Height: 99 cm, Width: 207 cm, Depth: 73.5 cm

Object history note

Given as a wedding present in 1871 to H.R.H. Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll (1848-1939) and presented by her to the Museum in 1925. (R/P 25/8819)

Historical significance: Francesco di Giorgio Martini (bapt 1439-1501) was a Sienese architect, engineer, painter, illuminator, sculptor, medallist, theorist and writer. His activities as a diplomat led to his employment at the courts of Naples, Milan and Urbino, as well as in Siena, and was among the leading architects in Italy. His theoretical works, which include the first important Western writings on military engineering, were not published until modern times but were keenly studied in manuscript, by Leonardo da Vinci among others. Francesco di Giorgio is generally thought to have studied with the painter and sculptor il Vecchietta. He and members of his workshop produced numerous cassoni (e.g. Florence, Mus. Stibbert; New York, Met.) from the end of the 1460s which reveal Francesco’s interest in narrative and taste for the classically inspired representation of architecture and cities. He worked closely with Neroccio de’ Landi from around 1469 until 1474. This cassone appears to have been painted using designs by the master in his workshop during his period of collaboration with Neroccio. It can be compared for example with two similar cassoni also containing triumphal chariots at the Museo Stibbert, Florence.
This work was previously described as representing Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. However, the youthful uncrowned youth who sits with the queen is not convincingly identified with King Solomon who is generally represented as older, bearded and crowned. The scene may tentatively be identified as representing Dido, the founder and first Queen of Carthage and her love, the Trojan hero Aeneas. The scene on the left may illustrate Dido's procession to the Temple of Juno and at right, the meeting of Aeneas and Dido and an allusion to the subsequent Banquet with the Trojans, all recounted in Book I of Virgil's Aeneid:

‘while in amazement he [Aeneas] hangs rapt in one fixed gaze, the queen, Dido, moved toward the temple, of surpassing beauty, with a vast company of youths thronging round her. Even as on Eurotas’ banks or along the heights of Cythus Diana guides her dancing bands, in whose train a thousand Oreads troop to right and left; she bears a quiver on her shoulder, and as she treads overtops all the goddesses; joys thrill Latona’s silent breast – such was Dido, so moved she joyously through their midst, pressing on the work of her rising kingdom. Then at the door of the goddess, beneath the temple’s central dome, girt witharms and high enthroned, she took her seat. Laws and ordinances she gave to her people; their tasks she adjusted in equal shares or assigned by lot…’
(Aeneid 1:494ff)

While some details of the text do not appear in the painting and vice versa, the niche carved out of the stairs in the platform in the second scene appears to hold several books and a lamp (?) to which the Queen gestures with her sceptre –possibly a reference to Virgil's 'laws and ordinances.' Further, the attention to architecture may also allude to Dido’s role as the ‘builder’ of Carthage. The subject remains however a subject of debate and is described more generally as 'A Triumph of Love' as suggested by the triumphal chariot at left and 'Two Lovers.'

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 colourful 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 developed a particular fondness for Florentine art.

Descriptive line

Cassone, The Triumph of Love and Two Lovers, workshop of Francesco di Giorgio and Neroccio de' Landi, Siena, 1469-1500

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

Ellen Callman, Apollonio di Giovanni. (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1974), p.26, n.10.
C. M. Kauffmann, Catalogue of Foreign Paintings before 1800, London, 1973, cat. no. 127, pp. 114-115.
T. Borenius in Apollo, iii, 1926, p. 132, repr.
‘This cassone is one of a somewhat rare type, with supporters in stucco bas-relief appearing on each side of the front panel: a kindred example, not only Sienese but very probably issued from the same atelier, is the cassone painted with the story of Tobias, which forms part of the Nemes collection in Munich (see Schubring, No. 936. Plate CCIII). The subject of the front panel is derived from the story of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba – a favourite theme of the cassone painters; we find it also illustrated on the front of the Dini cassone in the V & A. (Schubring, No. 193, Plate XLI - [Cassoni; truhen und truhenbilder der italienischen frührenaissance. Ein beitrag zur profanmalerei im quattrocento, von Paul Schubring (Leipzig, 1915)]), the work of a Florentine master of about 1450 (the ‘Cassone Master’ probably Marco del Buono). On the left (referring to W.68-1925) we see the arrival of the Queen of Sheba travelling through a conventionalized landscape on her chariot, accompanied by a large number of young men and women; on the right Solomon and the Queen of Sheba are seated on a dias, conversing, some books being placed on a stand between them, while below, on each side, appears their retinue, and the background is formed by a series of marble palaces. The whole is a singularly charming composition, full of grace motifs and delightful in decorative effect. The type of the figures, the character of the architectural accessories, and the motives of the landscape all find close parallels in a number of Sienese cassone of about 1470-80, gravitating round Francesco di Giorgio and, up to a point Matteo di Giovanni. Among the cassone fronts associated with Francesco di Giorgio I Borenius mentions: those in the Nemes Collection, ‘The Triumph of Chastity’ in Sir Herbert Cook’s Collection at Doughty House, Richmond (Schubring, No. 465), and an unpublished cassone front the ‘Triumph of Julius Caesar’, in Viscount Lascelles’ Collection, as exhibiting very striking analogies to the present example.
Allen Stuart Weller, Francesco di Giorgio, 1439-1501 Chicago, Ill., The University of Chicago press, 1943, p. 127 n. 108, p. 298.
Burton B. Fredericksen, The Cassone Paintings of Francesco di Giorgio. J Paul Getty Museum, publication no. 4, 1969. Illus. fig. 14, 15, 16
Cristelle Baskins, Adrian W.B. Randolph, Jacqueline Marie Musacchio and Alan Chong. The triumph of marriage : painted cassoni of the Renaissance. Boston : Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum ; Sarasota : John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art ; [Pittsburgh] : With Gutenberg Periscope Publishing Limited, c2008.

Labels and date

CHEST (CASSONE) WITH THE MEETING OF SOLOMON AND THE QUEEN OF SHEBA
Carved and gilt gesso on wood; painting in tempera.
Workshop of FRANCESCO DI GIORGIO MARTINI (b.1439, d. 1501/2)
SIENESE, second half of the 15th century.
Given by H.R.H. Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll.
W.68-1925

On the back is a monochrome brush drawing of a reclining woman. The coats of arms on the sides are unidentified. The lid, base and feet are of later date. [before 2004]
MARRIAGE CHEST (CASSONE) with the Meeting of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba
1450-1500
Workshop of Francesco di Giorgio Martini (1439-1501/2)

The Old Testament describes a visit by the Queen of Sheba to Solomon, King of Israel. She arrived in a great procession bearing extravagant gifts, and in return he gave her 'all she desired, whatever she asked'. The meeting of the wisest man in Asia and the richest woman of the South was a popular subject for a cassone.

Italy, Siena

Carved and gilded gesso on wood, painted in tempera; the lid and feet of later date

Museum no. W.68-1925
Given by the HRH Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll [2008]

Production Note

Attributed to Francesco di Giorgio or someone from his workshop; formerly described as Solomon and the Queen of Sheba which is untenable; the more general title 'Triumph of Love and Two Lovers' proposed by Professor Benjamin David (2010)

Materials

Tempera; Gold leaf; Gesso

Techniques

Painting; Gilding; Joinery; Sculpture

Subjects depicted

Queens (people); Horses (animals); Chariots (ancient vehicles)

Categories

Furniture; Woodwork; Containers; Renaissance (Italian); Medieval and renaissance

Collection

Furniture and Woodwork Collection

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