Cassoni, literally translated as ‘chests’, were among the most luxurious objects produced for wealthy patrons in Renaissance Italy. Usually commissioned in pairs, these large, rectangular trunks were made to commemorate marriages of the city and court elite, and were designed to contain a bride’s dowry and jewels. Until the mid-15th century, they were frequently used as part of the domumductio, the procession which accompanied the bride and her trousseau to the house of the groom.
Varying types of chest were used in the late Middle Ages in Italy, ranging from the most basic storage boxes (casse) to the grandest trunks (forzierre), adorned with painted or moulded front and side panels. With their abundant gold, silver and figurative decoration, cassoni would have made lavish additions to fashionable interiors. As part of the marriage procession, the use of arms and heraldry announced the alliance of families, and were marks of wealth and status.
In a more intimate context, the painted panels frequently depicted scenes with a moralising message, often drawn from mythological, biblical or historical subjects. The genre reached its peak around 1440–70, when a new generation of artists fully embraced the innovations of the Renaissance.
On 6 July in London, Christie’s offers an exceptional collection of Tuscan Renaissance cassoni as part of the Old Masters Evening Sale. Rare in scope and quality, the collection includes panels ranging from the earliest Florentine examples by the Master of Charles III of Durazzo, to works by the greatest exponents of cassoni, Apollonio di Giovanni and Lo Scheggia.
As Eugene Pooley, an Old Masters specialist at Christie’s in London, explains, ‘it’s rare to have a collection of cassoni panels like this, which spans the late 14th through the early 16th century.’ What makes the collection particularly compelling, Pooley continues, is what it reveals about life in Renaissance Italy: the panels tell us ‘how people lived, the story of their lives’, and traces the evolution of cassoni as an art form.