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Cassone panel

  • Date:

    15th century (made)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Wood, gilded and painted

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Physical description

Front from a cassone. Wood (poplar?)with raised stucco ornament, gilded and painted. The front consists of a single wide board (with the remains of the chest sides at both ends), onto which are nailed (the nails exposed at the bottom) mouldings, top and bottom. At both ends are the remains of mouldings, presumably framing the panels on the chest sides. The main panel of the front sits within a moulded 'frame', with three lozenges on a dark, painted background, each depicting one of the labours of Hercules within an undulating 'sunburst' border, set against a trellis ground with a seated sphinx-like creature (the body of a leopard with the head of a man) motif and coronet. A guilloche band runs along the top and bottom. A narrow vertical 'panel' at both ends of the front contains a painted shield (with crossed paws, thought to represent the Morelli family) between two sphinxes. There is a metal lock (internal) and keyhole. The back not seen, December 2012.

The scenes depict (from left to right) the Carrying of Cerberus from Hades to the Upper World, the Shooting of the Stymphalian Birds and the Slaying of the Lernean Hydra.

Condition (Dec. 2012)
Extensive common furniture beetle damage. A large crack runs across the centre. Considerable surface dirt. The gilding very worn along the top edge.


15th century (made)

Materials and Techniques

Wood, gilded and painted

Object history note

Bouught for £38 'from Rome, per Messrs Macbean and Messrs McCracken' RF 7803/1883
'From the Castellani collection'.

The other parts of the chest from which this came were evidently sawn away. The considerable worm damage suggests that the chest may have been dilapidated, but the practice of breaking up chests and detaching the fronts for display on the wall as independent works of art was carried out during the second half of the 19th century.

The 15th century attribution follows a basic dating established by scholars around the beginning of the early 20th century for similar gilded chests. A.Schiaparelli, La Casa Fiorentina e i suoi arredi nei secoli XIV e XV (Florence: Casa Editrice Le Lettere, 1983, reprint of 1908 edition) notes that gilded cassoni appear in inventories from the beginning of the 15th century, and suggests (p.258-9) that this type of decoration with a trellis background and exotic creatures derived from luxury textiles imported from Constantinople, which were particularly fashionable in Tuscany and carried symbolic and heraldic meanings. The decoration seems to have been created using sheets of gesso duro pressed into carved moulds then attached to the wood and gilded, a technique described by Cennino Cennini in his Il libro dell'arte (thought to have been written by 1400).

A number of comparable chests survive in public collections:
Geneva, Museé d'art et d'histoire, inv. 15.809 (Patricia Lurati, Doni nuziali del Rinascimento nell collezioni svizzere, (Locarno: Armando Dadò Editore, 2007), no. 15
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, inv. 27.72)
Museo di san Gimignano
Museo Bardini di Firenze
Museo dell'Opera del Duomo di Siena (Castello di Vincigliata)
The Courtauld Gallery, London
Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto (Canada)

Descriptive line

Italian (Florentine) 15th century

Labels and date

Gilt gesso on wood
FLORENTINE; about 1430

The panel is emblazoned with the arms of the Morelli family, depicting sphinxes and the Labours of Hercules. The Labours represented here are the Carrying of Cerberus from Hades to the Upper World, the Shooting of the Stymphalian Birds and the Slaying of the Lernean Hydra. Hercules was a popular figure in Florence from about 1400, representing virtu, the human potential for achievement. [Pre-2006]


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


Furniture and Woodwork Collection

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