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Furniture > European > Italian > Renaissance > Cassone

Italian Cassone or Cassoni Chests

Italian chests, or cassoni, are essentially practical wooden boxes, used for storage of items, and are given to a couple at marriage, sometimes in pairs. They are often very elaborate, according to the means of the family, and usually are flat painted or inlaid with some ornamentation in relief form.

Cassone, 1350
Poplar carcase, covered with canvas, painted red and blue, decorated with tin leaf and gesso figures and reinforced with iron bands.
This chest was most likely made in Florence or Siena: some red or blue "damsels" chests' (girls' chests) were ordered in Florence in 1384 by Francesco Datini (1355-1410); and a pair are shown in a painting by the Sienese artist Simone Martini (died 1344). Cassoni were often placed around beds and decorated with popular romantic themes: in this case, love is symbolised by figures at "the fountain of love" and by ladies on horseback with falcons taking part in "the hunt of love". This cassone may be one of the earliest known, because the ladies sleeves, which are cut off at the elbow, were only fashionable during the 1350s.

In the era of Italian Renaissance furniture the cassone underwent significant changes in style due to the influence of Renaissance time sculptors, engravers, goldsmiths, and painters. The cassone chest became an integrated part of the furniture of rooms with painters often working on both it and other features of the interior decor and by about 1300, the cassone, or chest, had become the most prestigious form of storage in Italian households.

Carved Chest Front
Carved Chest Front, 1415.
Terracotta covered with a lead glaze and traces of gilt mounted on wood.
One of a series or carved chest reliefs concerning the Old Testament story of Adam and Eve.

The carved marriage chest, or cassone, is one of the pieces of Renaissance furniture which has most often descended to our own day, for such chests formed a very important part of the furnishing in every household, and being large and heavy, were not so easily broken as chairs and tables.

Italian Wedding Chest
Italian Wedding Chest, 1430.
Pinewood with gilt gesso decoration.
This cassone is inscribed with the opening lines of the Nicene Creed, a statement of belief in the Christian faith. The inscription is written in a mixture of Latin and Italian. This mixed language was used during the Middle Ages in the popular religious texts presented to girls about to be married or enter a nunnery. This chest dates from about 1400. However, the coat of arms was almost certainly added in the 19th century, to give the chest greater romance and prestige. The coat of arms is that of the Chigi family, who acted as bankers to Pope Julius II (14431513).

These coffers and chests were the lineal descendant of the medieval chest, and were made of solid walnut or chestnut, sometimes oak, and occasionally of cypress or camphor wood. Some examples are shaped like sarcophagi; others have perpendicular sides and ends. Some are carved with scrolls and figures; others are painted and gilded or ornamented with intarsia and fine gesso work. Often they are masterpieces of ornament. There was also a higher form of chest, called a bahut.

Cassone Chest
Cassone Chest, 1500.
This beautifully decorated chest was probably made in Venice around 1500. It is inlaid with geometrical figures in ivory, walnut and ebony. The inside is largely undecorated, but is divided into compartments and drawers in which small articles could be stored separately.

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