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Cassone

  • Place of origin:

    Perugia (Probably, made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1430-1440 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown (made)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Poplar and walnut, joined and nailed, decorated with modelling in gesso and gilding

  • Museum number:

    8974-1863

  • Gallery location:

    Medieval & Renaissance, Room 64, The Wolfson Gallery, case 15

Marriage chests or cassoni were made in pairs. They were emblazoned with the coats of arms of the relevant families and often decorated with wedding scenes. A number of figures on this example wear Burgundian fashions, which were much in vogue in Florence between about 1425 and 1450. Early records do not tell us where this cassone came from, but it was bought by this museum for £40 in 1863, possibly from William Blundell Spence, a flamboyant English dealer based in Fiesole (just outside Florence), or from Giuseppe Baslini, a dealer from Milan, who in 1869 sold this museum the front panel (Museum No. 21 - 1869) of what could once have been its pair. This item is a rare example of a surviving cassone that almost certainly retains its original base, as well as remaining largely unaltered.

Physical description

Rectangular cassone, decorated with a wedding scene in gilt modeled gesso and partly covered with red, blue and green glazes. The lid is flat, partly painted with black spots on an off-white background, and heavily worm-eaten. The back is decorated in the same way as the lid, the sides with a crimson ‘artichoke’ textile pattern, and the front with a wedding scene. The plinth is made up of three planks, forming the front and sides, and with a triangular bracket in each corner at the rear, forming the back feet. The sides of the plinth are decorated with a continuation of the textile pattern, and the front with two elongated quatrefoil frames, each containing two painted angels converging and holding an unidentified coat of arms. The upper part of the front is made up of figures, modeled in gesso, punched and gilded with red and dark blue glazes, similar to those on a cassone panel (Museum No. 21- 1869), which could well have formed its pair.

The wedding scene itself consists of two processions, the one on the left taking up two thirds of the picture, converging either side of a lute-player: the one on the left is led by a harper, and the one on the right by the bride, who is followed by five women, three of which form a group, holding hands in a dance, at the back. Male attendants in the left-hand procession hold knotted handkerchiefs, which presumably have bridal connotations. The ground they stand on is decorated with stylized irises with red glazed petals and green glazed shoots. The bridegroom’s attendants wear a livery emblazoned with a leopard chained to a cushion on their cloaks, and the the bride’s mother (or nurse?) has large dragon on a turf emblazoned on hers. The families remain unidentified. Their headdresses would have been the latest Burgundian fashion, and very much in vogue in Florence between about 1425 and 1450. The bride is bare headed and wears a long plait, the sign of maidenhood.

The plinth is made up of three planks overlapping at the front and sides, chamfered at the top and nailed to each other in the front corners. Immediately below the chamfering runs a narrow, grooved fillet, which gives the moulding an overhanging appearance. An identical fillet is nailed to the immediately below the lid. The floor of the cassone, mainly made up of one board, is nailed to the sides and front at the edges, and a narrow strip of the same wood, which fills the gap in the floor, is nailed to the back. The front, back and sides of the cassone are four boards joined together at the corners with dovetails cut into the sides. (Note that both the chest and stand, which appear to be joined, the chest not intended to be lifted from the stand - are dovetailed to hold the front and back in place, drawer-style, not in the usual manner of chests to hold the ends in place.) The corners are covered with canvas, and the front edges with a band of decorative gilt gesso punch marks. The lid is made up of two planks of poplar, with 19th century rails of walnut nailed to the front and side edges for extra support, and reinforced on the inside with three wooden slats, also added later. A bare, rectangular patch in the centre of the lid suggests that there was once a piece of moulding glued to the top.

The dove-tail joinery of the front and sides of the main part of the cassone's is decorated from top to bottom with punch marks, consistent with those found on the clothes of figures on the front panel. This indicates that the sides, although of different decoration, do form part of the original cassone. The lock is off centre and must have been crudely inserted at a later date. However, this cassone is considered largely authentic and to date from about 1430.

Conserved 2007
In addition to surface treatments, two nailed vertical battens (applied in the 19th or 20th century) were removed from the back, one at each end where they appear to have been intended to provide extra stability between chest and stand. In addition to the extensive removal of surface dirt, the painted stand, ends and back of the cassone were retouched. The front panel of the cassone was not retouched.

Place of Origin

Perugia (Probably, made)

Date

ca. 1430-1440 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown (made)

Materials and Techniques

Poplar and walnut, joined and nailed, decorated with modelling in gesso and gilding

Marks and inscriptions

8974-63 on top left corner of the proper left side.

'110' on a small octagonal label (19th c) on bottom proper right corner of the front panel.
Museum labels

Dimensions

Height: 73.6 cm, Width: 179 cm, Depth: 59.2 cm

Object history note

The cassone was bought for £40 in 1863. Its provenance is unknown. (The surviving panel of the twin cassone - Museum No.: 29-1869 - was bought from Giuseppe Baslini, a leading dealer from Milan). This cassone could have been bought from either Baslini or William Blundel Spence, based in Fiesole.

Note: Conserved 2009

Historical significance: During the 19th century, most cassoni are altered particularly at the base, or stripped of their front panel. This object is rare because it seems to have had few alterations and seems remarkably intact.

Attributed to the workshop of Giovanni di Tommsino Crivelli by comparison with the identification of arms of the Coppoli and Montesperelli families of Perugia on a very similar cassone in a private collection. See A.DE MARCHI – C. GUERZI – G. NUNZIATI, Due cassoni in oro e in argento. L’arte nuziale a Perugia e a Siena verso il 1440, Firenze 2009

With the arms of Della Torre and Poccioli. Identification by Matteo Mazzalupi; information provided by Prof. Andrea De Marchi, Dipartimento SAGAS (Storia Archeologia Geografia Arte Spettacolo), Florence.

Historical context note

During the 15th century, the cassone was the main form of storage, and these large box-like chests were associated with marriage. They were decorated with mythical or romantic themes and emblazoned with the coats of arms of the families linked in marriage. Although often associated with containing the bridal trusseau, both the bride's and the groom's families ordered them, and on occasions they were paraded through the streets, as the bride progressed to her new home.

Descriptive line

Cassone, Italian (Tuscany or Umbria), ca. 1430 - 1440, with painted and gilded decoration; on its original stand

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

H.Avray Tipping, Italian furniture of the Italian Renaissance as represented at the Victoria and Albert Museum, Country Life March 31st 1917, pp. 3-8, fig. 5.
Peter Thornton, Cassoni, Forzieri, Goffani and Cassette: Terminology and its problems, in Apollo vol. CXX (1984), no.272 pp.246-251
Victoria & Albert Museum: Fifty Masterpieces of Woodwork (London, 1955), no. 5.
A Marriage Chest (Cassone)
In Italy during the Renaissance it was the custom in every great household on the occasion of a wedding to order a pair of marriage coffers (cassoni), one for the bridegroom and one for the bride. Some of the most celebrated artists and craftsmen lavished their skill on the decoration of these splendid gifts. The arms of both families generally appear on the front panels with appropriate scenes, carved, painted or inlaid. The favourite subjects were a betrothal, a wedding feast or a bridal procession; while owing to the enormous popularity of Petrarch’s Trionfi, the Triumph of Love was often represented.
Many Italian cassoni have been destroyed in a later age by collectors who have preserved only the painted Front panels; but this fine coffer, which dates from the first half of the fifteenth century, is not only complete in itself but also has its contemporary stand bearing the (unidentified) arms of the owners. The surface is decorated in gilt gesso partly enriched with colour. On the front is seen a procession with the bride and bridegroom advancing to meet each other dressed in the sumptuous costume of the time and accompanied by attendants and musicians. The figures are modelled in low relief with great spirit and delicacy, and most effectively grouped. This beautiful example of Italian gesso—work was purchased by the Museum in 1863.

Italian (Florentine); first half of fifteenth century.
H. 29 in., L. 70 ½ in., W. 23 in.

London, South Kensington Museum: Ancient and Modern Furniture & Woodwork in the South Kensington Museum, described with an introduction by John Hungerford Pollen (London, 1874) , p. 129

“8974- ’63
COFFER. Wood. The front panel carved in low relief with a procession of knights and dames meeting, and playing musical instruments, coloured and gilt; below are armorial shields borne by angels. Italian. 15th century. H. 2 ft. 5 in., L. 5 ft. loll in., W. 1 ft. 11 in. Bought, 40L. This chest is mounted on a plinth, to which it is joined by plain mouldings. It is on the cusped panels of this part that the two imprese or heraldic shields are painted. That on the right bears, per fess azure and or, three fleurs-de-lis, counterchanged. The coat in the left hand panel can no longer be deciphered. The ends of the coffer are painted with simple damask work. The wood is but slightly sunk or carved, and the ornamental figures, &c. made up with gesso or cement preparation for gilding and painting. The bed so formed is worked on much as the ornamental tooling is worked on leather by the bookbinder."

Wilhelm von Bode, Italian Renaissance Furniture (originally published as Die Italienischen Hausmöbel der Renaissance, Leipzig 1902), fig. 3; translated by Mary E. Herrick (New York, 1921), fig. 3
Angela Comolli Sordelli, Il Mobile Antico dal XIV al XVII Secolo (Milan, 1967), fig. 5
Penelope Curtis (ed.), Depth of field : the place of relief in the time of Donatello / Catalogue of an exhibition produced by the Henry Moore Institute in collaboration with the Victoria and Albert Museum, held at the Henry Moore Institute, Leeds, Sept. 23, 2004-Mar. 27, 2005, (Leeds : Henry Moore Institute, 2004), cat. 17

Labels and date

CASSONE
Gilt and painted gesso in shallow relief on wood
FLORENTINE; about 1460
8974-1863

The scene depicts wedding festivities. The bride and bridegroom approach each other, flanked by guests and accompanied by musicians. On the plinth, the couple's respective coats of arms are supported by angels, which resemble Nikes (Victories) found on Roman sarcophagi and copied in Romanesque art. Cassoni were not only used for storage but also symbolised marriage. They were made in pairs, lavishly decorated and paraded through the streets in wedding processions. [Pre-2006]

Production Note

Attribution note: One of a pair. It is very similar to a cassone panel (Museum No. 21-1869), in which the bride and groom exchange rings. Reason For Production: Commission

Materials

Poplar; Walnut; Gesso; Gold leaf; Glaze

Techniques

Nailing; Joining; Water gilding; Modelling

Subjects depicted

Weddings; Musicians; Bride; Groom; Marriage

Categories

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

Production Type

Limited edition

Collection

Furniture and Woodwork Collection

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