Cassone

From Academic Kids

The cassone ("large chest") was one of the trophy furnishings of rich merchants and aristocrats in Italian culture, from the late Middle Ages onward. Since a cassone contained the personal goods of the bride, it was a natural vehicle for painted decoration commemorating the marriage in heraldry and flattering allegory. The side panels offered a flat surface for a suitable painting, with subjects drawn from courtly romance or from Scripture or holy legends. Some Tuscan artists in Siena and Florence specialized in such cassone panels, which were preserved as autonomous works of art by 19th century collectors, who sometimes discarded the cassone itself. Great Florentine artists of the 15th century were called upon to decorate cassoni.

A typical place for such a cassone was in a chamber at the foot of a bed that was enclosed in curtains. Such a situation is a familiar setting for depictions of the Annunciation or the Visitation of St. Anne to the Virgin Mary. A cassone was largely immovable. Chairs were reserved for important personages. Often pillows scattered upon the floor of a chamber provided informal seating, and a cassone could provide a backrest and a table surface. The symbolic "humility" that modern scholars read into Annunciations where the Virgin sits reading upon the floor, perhaps underestimate this familiar mode of seating.

In the 15th century, a new classicising style arose, and early Renaissance cassoni of central and northern Italy were carved and partly gilded, and given classical décor, with panels flanked by fluted corner pilasters, under friezes and cornices, or with sculptural panels in high or low relief.

A cassone that was provided with a high panelled back and sometimes a footrest, for both hieratic and practical reasons, becomes a cassapanca ("chest-bench"). Cassapanche were immovably fixed in the main public room of a palazzo, the sala or salone. They were part of the immobili ("unmoveables"), perhaps even more than the removable glazed window casements, and might be left in place, even if the palazzo passed to another family.

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