Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Cassone - Italian Renaissance Marriage Chest

Ebony Cassone - Hercules Room
Sala di Ercole, Palazzo Vecchio, Florence

The cassone (or cassoni), an Italian Marriage Chest, or a Glory Box, as I've always known it. They were highly decorated with fine metals, rich velvets and an artist, or artists, would be commissioned to paint arabesques, love stories, Roman poetry, Tuscan verse and tell fascinating tales of ancient Greece, Rome and Palestine. It would have contained the bride's dowry and was carried from her Father's house to that of her groom. Later they were used to store fine linens, clothes and textiles. A marriage in 15th century Florence was more about dynastic alliance between powerful families, rather than for love or religion.

Florentine Cassone in gilded pastiglia (layers of gesso, embossed)

Cassone degli Adimari (detail)
Galleria dell'Accademia, Florence
Probably painted by 'Lo Scheggia, meaning 'splinter' (Giovanni Cassai),
brother of 'Masaccio', meaning 'fat' Tommaso Cassai

Nerli Chest

The above chest (Nerli Chest) and spalliera (a wall panel that hangs on the wall above) was one of a pair made to commemorate the marriage of Lorenzo di Matteo de Morelli and Vagia di Tania de Francesco de Nerli and was painted in 1472 by Jacopo del Sellaio and Biagio d'antonio. It is on display at the Courtauld Gallery, London.

The other Nerli Chest

Walnut, domed lid

The above 16th century cassoni (found on an auction site) is of solid, carved walnut with dome top and intarsia-inlaid, string banding. The centre panel is inlaid with family crest (the panel usually has the crest of both families). It was for sale with the original iron key! Intarsia is a form of wood inlaying similar to marquetry.

Scenes from Boccaccio's Decameron

Cassone were generally displayed in a man's camera (chamber) one of the most important rooms in a house.

My Mother's Glory Box,
dating back to The Great Depression era of the 1930s (I should
have added a touch of folk-art to the front panels).

The top lifts up to reveal a cavity about 6 inches deep and behind the doors are about four drawers. Many of the chests, as this one, were made of cedar, a fragrant timber which has a natural repellent to moths. It still has that unique, fresh perfume I remember as a girl.

It is now housed in my daughter Nicole's home. Hopefully, there will be a great-grand-daughter to pass it on to.


steven said...

hello alaine - i know the modern descendants of these as "hope chests". no matter their name - they are exquisite testaments to much more than dynastic connection. have a lovely evening. how's the big dust storm? did it reach as far north as you? steven

Lyn said...

So beautiful...
I bet that dynastic alliance really worked! Romance for later..
Your mother's glory box..what a treasure!

Bonnie, Original Art Studio said...

My goodness - I have one that looks strikingly similar to the walnut cassoni - it has metal key and all - except the legs are not as ornate. It was my mother-in-laws "hope chest". Not exactly 16th century. Perhaps some enterprising cabinet maker here copied it from a photo??

Some of them (can't tell their sizes in photos) almost look like they could be coffins. Marry and bury!!

Maggie's garden said...

I have an antique box similar to the one on the top of the's not very big and certainly not as decorated. You've got me wondering if the box I have was used as a marriage chest. Very interesting. Think I'll have to do a little research!! Thanks, I love doing historical detective work! You've inspired me! Your Mothers Glory Box is beautiful as is. Hope you get the grand daughter soon!

Maggie's garden said...

Read the news this morning and see that Sydney is having quite a dust hope you aren't affected. Worst in 70 years? Oh my.

Alaine said...

Hi Steve, yes, that's another name for them, 'hope chests'! No, we're way down South. It went through Canberra and up the coast. We had a similar red dust storm two years ago; it covered everything! And I had just washed my windows!

Alaine said...

Lyn, indeed, hopefully romance came later. Yes, Mum's chest is a treasure and it contains heirloom shawls, cloths, doilies and baby clothes.

Alaine said...

Bonnie, I'd say Mum's is about 4ft6" long and yes, that's what I thought, a coffin, when I saw the domed lid cassone.

Alaine said...

Hello Maggie, I think the top cassone would be my favourite. It appears to be very small. Good on you if you've got an old one! Doing the detective work is fun; I enjoy that too.

Hoping not to get the great grand-daughter too soon, the eldest grandson is only 17!

No, the dust storm missed us, thankfully, just touched the top of our state. The pictures were incredible. The cleanup will be enormous, that red dust clings to everything!

Tracy said...

Glory Box...I've always liked the term much more. Such dreams, wishes, and hopes such boxes held. These are such exquisite examples...more than just for storage and hopes! Sweet to see your mother's box, Alaine. Glad you were spared the dust storm. :o)

Veronica said...

Thats lovely. My Mum has a glory box too, 1960/70's design. She kept her fabric stash in it. It was always a great treat when I was young to be able to look inside and find a lovely piece of fabric for a new dress or skirt.

Studio Sylvia said...

Hi Alaine. I visited for the first time, via Lyn's blog. Fancy connecting with NY to find a fellow Victorian's blog. Those dowry chests are beautiful pieces, so ornately decorated. Your mum's Glory Box is beautiful in its simplicity of design and clean lines.

Friko said...

what magnificent objects, breathtakingly beautiful!
I am the proud owner of a 17th century oaken coffer; the only decorations are carvings in the wood, which are inlaid with thin strips of ebony and rosewood.
It does look pretty drab compared to your objects, though.

Alaine said...

Hello Tracy, I loved going through the Glory Box with my Mum and still have the many cloths and doilies she crocheted.

Ah the dust, I'm glad too. We've suffered two minor dust storms here and it gets over everything inside the house.

Alaine said...

Sylvia, thanks for visiting. You're the fourth Aussie blogger I've spoken to in nine months! Nice to meet you and I will pay a visit to your Studio.

Alaine said...

Hello Veronica, thanks for visiting. I remember doing just the same. Mum made all my lovely dresses and I'd sit beside her and watch her creating.

Alaine said...

Friko, aren't they lovely. Your coffer sounds wonderful; oak inlaid with ebony and rosewood, hardly drab! Ah, to live amongst all that history over there! I'd be forever broke!

ruthie said...

Alaine - fascinating, as always.