Or are you looking for Search the Archives?

Please complete the form to email this item.



  • Place of origin:

    Italy (made)

  • Date:

    1400-1500 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown (maker)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Gilt pastiglia box

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Mrs Ellen Hearn

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Physical description

Rectangular cassetta or coffret in wood, decorated with gesso, with a projecting base and cornice. On the front is depicted a battle scene, on the back an attack on a castle by land and sea, and on each end is a seated figure flanked by warriors beneath trees. The top has a centre panel with the Judgement of Solomon and figures of centaurs around the border. The interior is gilded.

Place of Origin

Italy (made)


1400-1500 (made)


Unknown (maker)

Materials and Techniques

Gilt pastiglia box


Height: 7.5 in, Length: 15 in, Width: 11.5 in

Object history note

Gilt pastiglia boxes were mostly made in Venice and Ferrara from about 1480 until 1550. Pastiglia or pasta is the name given to white lead paste, bound with egg white. This was often scented and described in contemporary inventories as pasta di muschio (musk paste). The pastiglia figures and motifs were shaped with a lead mould and then glued to the gilt surface of the box - hence their frequent recurrence on other boxes. The boxes are decorated with legends of Ancient Rome and the scenes copied from woodcuts such as Jacobus Argentoratensis' Triumph of Caesar (Venice, 1504) or illustrations of Livy's Roman History.
(Label text, circa 2000, from old Medieval & Renaissance Galleries)

Descriptive line

Cassetta or coffret with pastiglia decoration. Italian, 1400-1500.

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

Patrick de Winter: "A little-known creation of Renaissance decorative arts: the white lead pastigilia box", Saggi e Memorie di Storia dell' Arte, 14 (1984), pp. 9 - 131. Cat. no. 52. pl. 56 (?) and 38

Labels and date

Small display curated by James Yorke, gallery 126, 1984-1985

The judgement of Solomon is represented on the lid, in as all’antica guise: this derives ultimately from Mantegna. The narrative is framed in laurel and berries and surrounded by centaurs, putti and masks. The front represent an equestrian battle, with combatants holding aloft banners marked “C” (possible meaning Carthage), the back possibly the battle of Zama (the “C” banners are repeated and the “A” in the cartouche could well stand for “Annibale” or Hannibal), the left side represents what seems to be the execution of Manlius Torquatus’ son (although the “C” banner causes confusion), and the right side a general, possibly Hannibal, reviewing his troops. The figures in all the narratives stand on a vegetation less spikey than that of the workshop of Cardinal Cles casket. The base is decorated with sphynx like herms holdings swags with Dolphins either side. The recurring use of “C” banners, even in what must be the judgement of Solomon (viz: the “S” cartouche, as well as the story of the child) created difficulties. It is quite likely that the craftsman had a convenient matrix to hand, rather than stories from the Punic wars on his mind. The mark of this workshop is the use of wiry, elongated figures. The lead is coloured with a dark resin so as to create similarities with bronze. [1984-1985]


Wood; Gesso



Subjects depicted

Trees; Centaurs; Battle; Castles; War; Warriors


Containers; Woodwork; Medieval and renaissance


Furniture and Woodwork Collection

Large image request

Please confirm you are using these images within the following terms and conditions, by acknowledging each of the following key points:

Please let us know how you intend to use the images you will be downloading.