Gallery 209, Second Floor
In Renaissance Italy, betrothal and marriage were celebrated with a variety of events as well as commemorative works of art. Often elaborate, these objects marked the joining of a couple while symbolizing wealth and demonstrating alliances between powerful families. Particularly significant were cassoni, large storage chests produced in pairs and typically used to hold the bride's dowry. In mid-fifteenth-century Florence, these chests were sometimes paraded through the city in wedding processions. As part of the domestic interior, the chests were designed to complement the other furnishings in the new couple's bedchamber.
Cassoni in museum collections typically consist of painted panels from chests that were dismantled long ago. This exhibition includes two complete chests and related painted panels in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, all produced in Tuscany in the mid- to late-fifteenth century. The display considers the contexts for which marriage chests were made and used, techniques employed by craftsmen in producing them, and the sources and meanings of the decoration. Usually representing moral exemplars intended for the education of the married couple—particularly the wife—the tales and images that decorate cassoni provide insight into Renaissance Italian art, life, and society.
During the Italian Renaissance, many works of art were made in connection with rituals of courtship, weddings and childbirth. While the chests created to commemorate marriages examined in this exhibition are perhaps one of the best-known and distinctive examples of such productions, the objects discussed here – selected from the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s rich collection – allow us to explore the topic in greater depth.
This exhibition is supported by Maude de Schauensee.
Jack Hinton, Assistant Curator of European Decorative Arts and Sculpture