An Italian Renaissance parcel-gilt walnut cassone, second half of the 16th century. The front with three sections carved in relief against a dot-punched gold background, bordered by female terms. The left side shows a carved snail, and the right side shows a carved shield in front of weapons and torches. The frieze shows a ribbon scroll and flower heads on all sides.
The left panel shows Apollo of Greek mythology who has just shot the dragon or serpent known as the Python which guarded the oracular shrine at Delphi, which Apollo then took his own oracle. The right panel shows a reclining river god with two attendants and probably represents Eridanus, into whose waters Phaethon crashed, when he could no longer control the fiery horses. The center section shows winged figures surrounding a coat of arms.
The female term figures and the fierce mask which forms the escutcheon around the keyhole suggest that a symbolic guard is being placed over the family valuables and reputations.
Length 63", height 26", depth 24"
Condition: Mostly original, including two of the aprons (which are often missing), but with restorations to parts of the terms and feet, and many small filled areas due to woodworm damage. The gilding has been restored in the same manner as the original, and the coat of arms has been repainted. The highest single top board is an old replacement, as is the right apron. Later strap hinges replacing the original loop hinges (the markings of which are still present). Missing lock.
(1) A similar cassone is in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, made in Rome circa 1570. This example has the same mythological scenes in the right and left panels. See the black and white photo posted here or go to: https://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O157272/cassone-chest-unknown/
(2) Another similar parcel-gilt cassone with the same form is in the Minneanaplis Institute of Art. See the past photo here or go to: https://collections.artsmia.org/art/1376/cassone-italy
Cassone (literally 'large boxes') were the main form of storage in Italy throughout the 16th century. They were associated with weddings and often included the arms of the married couple. By about 1550, it had become more fashionable to carve rather than paint cassoni. They were decorated with mythological themes, often derived from murals by Raphael, Michelangelo and Giulio Romano in the palaces and villas of cardinals and noblemen in or near Rome. Supporting figures held medallions or wreaths and corner figures were often employed and the acanthus leaf was the most commonly employed motif.
The form and decoration of the this cassone derives both from ancient marble sarcophagi and also contemporary Renaissance tombs. The versatility of the chest made it a popular bridal present from the 13th century onwards. Up until the 16th century, even the most luxurious palaces had very few items of furniture, but contemporary inventories record that cassoni were the only pieces of furniture of which affluent people had many examples of due to their utilitarian function. They were, however, not constructed by a lowly carpenter but a craftsman belonging to a guild specialising in their specific production.
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