Painted in Florence about 1400, this elaborately decorated front of a chest (cassone) recounts in three episodes the conquest of Naples by Charles III of Durazzo, who defeated the forces of Otto of Brunswick in 1381. At the right, the armies clash; in the center, Otto's troops (recognizable by their distinctive haircut) surrender to Charles; at the left, the victors enter the conquered city. The prominent pennants and coats of arms in the spandrels are those of the Durazzo and the kings of Hungary. For more information, see metmuseum.org/collections.
As first argued by Wehle (1940) and as demonstrated by the coats of arms that appear in the various scenes, this unusually richly decorated front of a marriage chest, or cassone, shows three episodes chronicling the conquest of Naples by Charles III of Durazzo (1345/57–1386) in 1381. Other proposed identifications—the taking of Salerno (Perkins 1907), the capture of the Castel Nuovo in Naples by René of Anjou in 1441 (Mather 1912), the siege of Taranto (Bologna 1969 and Boskovits 1991)—cannot be sustained (Fahy 1994).
Charles III of Durazzo was the sole male descendant of the house of Durazzo, an offshoot of the Hungarian branch of the Angevin dynasty. Born between 1345 and 1357, he was raised at the court of Naples but received his education at Buda in Hungary, where he was invested by his second cousin Louis the Great, king of Hungary, with Dalmatia and Croatia. In 1370 he married his cousin Margherita of Durazzo, daughter and heiress of the prince of Durazzo; Margherita’s mother, Mary of Anjou, was the younger sister of Joan I, queen of Naples, which provided Charles with his claim to the throne. Initially, Joan recognized Charles as her heir, but in 1380 she instead adopted a brother of the king of France, Louis I of Anjou. Louis the Great thereupon ordered Charles to depose Joan. Making his way southward and gaining the support of Pope Urban VI, in June 1381 Charles was invested with the kingdoms of Sicily and Jerusalem and crowned King of Naples and Gonfalonier (standard bearer) of the Church. There followed a skirmish with Otto of Brunswick, Joan’s fourth and last husband, near Anagni; the victorious Charles entered Naples on June 28. Otto was exiled and in 1382 (but later returned); Joan was strangled in prison. When Louis the Great died that same year, Charles claimed the Hungarian crown and returned to Buda, where in 1386 he was assassinated by Louis’s widow.
In the right hand scene of the cassone, Charles, shown with a crown on his blond hair and wearing an elaborate tunic, wages war at Anagni against Otto of Brunswick. In the center scene Otto, shown with a moustache and goatee and wearing an orange tunic, submits to Charles, who is mounted on a white steed. In the left hand scene Charles enters the gates of Naples as victor, accompanied by his captive, the pigtailed Otto. Naples is recognizable, though schematically rendered—perhaps the earliest recognizable depiction of the city (Leone de Castris 2011). Crowning the hill is the castle of Belforte with, below it, the Certosa. The Castel dell’Ovo is on the island on the extreme left while the Castelnuovo and the cathedral are also prominently shown. The artist was clearly well informed about the topography of the city but did not have first-hand knowledge of the appearance of the buildings.
The troops of Charles are clearly identified by the three standards: the arms of the kings of Hungary (horizontal red and silver bars) impaled with the arms of the Angevin house (gold fleurs-de-lis on blue); the Gonfalonier of the Church (the crossed keys of Saint Peter on red); and the arms of Durazzo (gold fleurs-de-lis on blue, a red label with two points, and a red and white border) and those of Jerusalem (a large gold cross having crossbars at the ends and four smaller crosses on white). The arms of Durazzo and Jerusalem also appear in the roundels between the scenes. Otto of Brunswick is identified by his standard of two gold lions on a red field. Fahy (1994) has given the most detailed reading of the three scenes as well as a cogent refutation of the alternative identification of the king as Ladislaus (1377–1414), Charles’ son and heir. Ladislaus could, however, have commissioned the cassone celebrating his father’s victory, either when he reconquered the city in 1399 or upon his marriage to Maria of Lusignan in 1401—she arrived in Naples in 1402 (Leone de Castris 2011). Alternatively, the patron might also have been a Florentine with Neapolitan interests (see below). Since Charles could not have carried the arms of Hungary and the Angevin house before the death of Louis the Great, the cassone cannot have been commissioned before September 1382.
The origin and culture of the artist of this remarkable cassone front have been much discussed, but it is generally agreed that he was trained in Florence. Whether he actually worked in Naples and possibly Spain (Bologna 1975 and Leone de Castris 2011) remains hypothetical. Several other works by the same artist, including a stylistically related cassone with scenes from Boccaccio’s Decameron, are in Florence (the cassone is in the Museo Nazionale del Bargello). Moreover, in the church of San Martino a Mensola, near Florence, is a casket decorated by the same artist as well as an altarpiece. Inscriptions date the casket to 1389 and the altarpiece to 1391. The altarpiece includes a rare depiction of Saint Henry of Hungary, thus suggesting—like the cassone (which was purchased in Florence)—a patron with Hungarian ties. Fahy (1994) has suggested identifying the artist with the Florentine painter Francesco di Michele, but his proposal has not been universally accepted (Leone de Castris 2011). The five dated works by this artist range in time from 1385 to 1395 and thus coincide with the activity of the Master of Charles of Durazzo.
[Keith Christiansen 2011]
[Georges Brauer, Florence, until 1906; sold to MMA]
Richmond. Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. "Italian Art: Loss and Survival," October 15–November 16, 1947, no catalogue.
Venaria Reale, Italy. Scuderie Juvarriane, Reggia di Venaria. "La bella Italia: arte e identità delle città capitali," March 17–September 11, 2011, no. 6.1.2.
Florence. Palazzo Pitti. "La bella Italia: arte e identità delle città capitali," October 11, 2011–February 12, 2012, no. 6.1.2.
L[ucy]. M[ason]. P[erkins]. "Principal Accessions." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 2 (June 1907), pp. 108–9, identifies the subject as the taking of Salerno by Robert Guiscard; dates it probably 1420.
William Rankin. "Cassone Fronts and Salvers in American Collections—VII." Burlington Magazine 13 (September 1908), p. 382, pl. III, considers it Florentine, dates it about 1420, and calls it the Capture of Salerno by Robert Guiscard.
Attilio Schiaparelli. La casa fiorentina e i suoi arredi nei secoli XIV e XV. Ed. Maria Sframeli and Laura Pagnotta. 1983 ed. Florence, 1908, vol. 1, p. 271; vol. 2, p. 78 n. 202, as the capture of Salerno, by Robert Guiscard; compares it to a cassone panel in the Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence, similarly divided into three sections.
Frank Jewett Mather. Letter to Bryson Burroughs. September 26, 1912, states that it represents the taking of Castel Nuovo, Naples, from the Aragonese by René of Anjou in 1441, that it was made for René or a member of his family, and that the artist was probably Provençal.
Paul Schubring. Cassoni: Truhen und Truhenbilder der italienischen Frührenaissance. Leipzig, 1915, text vol., p. 398, no. 794; plate vol., pl. CLXVI, calls the subject and school uncertain, suggesting that the artist was not Florentine but southern Italian or Burgundian.
Raimond van Marle. The Development of the Italian Schools of Painting. Vol. 9, Late Gothic Painting in Tuscany. The Hague, 1927, pp. 98–99, calls it possibly Florentine and tentatively identifies the subjects as the taking of Salerno by Robert Guiscard.
Harry B. Wehle. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Italian, Spanish, and Byzantine Paintings. New York, 1940, p. 19, ill. (detail), as the War of Charles of Durazzo, by an unknown Florentine painter of the early fifteenth century; observes the arms of Durazzo, Sicily, Jerusalem, and the papacy on the standards carried by Charles' army; identifies the three scenes depicted as, from right to left, Charles war against Otto of Brunswick, Otto submitting to Charles, and Charles enters Naples as victor.
Millia Davenport. The Book of Costume. New York, 1948, vol. 1, p. 290, no. 788, ill. (detail).
Ferdinando Bologna. Letter to Federico Zeri. February 13, 1962, identifies the subject as the entry of an Angevin king (perhaps Ladislas of Durazzo, son of Charles III) into a city; attributes it to an artist working south of Naples who may have executed frescoes in the church of Santa Caterina d'Alessandria, Galatina, and a Last Judgment in Santo Stefano, Soleto; dates it shortly after 1391.
Ferdinando Bologna. I pittori alla corte Angioina di Napoli, 1266–1414. Rome, 1969, pp. 343–44, pls. VIII-2, VIII-3 (details), calls the artist the Master of the Siege of Taranto, to whom he also ascribes a cassone panel showing a scene from Boccaccio's "Decameron" (Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence); identifies the subject as the taking of Taranto by Ladislas of Durazzo in 1407; suggests the cassone was commissioned in honor of Ladislas's wedding to Maria d'Enghien in that year.
Federico Zeri with the assistance of Elizabeth E. Gardner. Unpublished manuscript for catalogue of Neapolitan paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. [ca. 1970], as the War of Charles of Durazzo, by an unknown south Italian painter active in the early fifteenth century; suggest that it was commissioned by Charles's son Ladislas.
Burton B. Fredericksen and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1972, pp. 232–33, 484, 605, as by an unknown Neapolitan painter of the fifteenth century.
Ferdinando Bologna. Il soffitto della Sala Magna allo Steri di Palermo e la cultura feudale siciliana nell'autunno del Medioevo. Palermo, 1975, pp. 123, 155 n. 185, erroneously as in The Cloisters, New York; notes a Hispano-Moorish quality in the pastiglia work derived from paintings in the Hall of the Kings in the Alhambra, Granada.
Francesco Sabatini. Napoli angioina: Cultura e società. Naples, 1975, pl. 43 (detail), erroneously as in The Cloisters, New York; calls it Ladislas of Durazzo at the siege of Taranto, by a southern Italian artist, about 1410.
Christopher Lloyd. A Catalogue of the Earlier Italian Paintings in the Ashmolean Museum. Oxford, 1977, p. 133, under no. A231, accepts Bologna's [see Ref. 1969] attribution and identification of the subject, assigning to the same artist a painted a cassone panel showing Tarquin and Lucretia (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford).
John Pope-Hennessy and Keith Christiansen. "Secular Painting in 15th-Century Tuscany: Birth Trays, Cassone Panels, and Portraits." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 38 (Summer 1980), pp. 13, 20–23, figs. 15–17 (color, overall and details), note that the Angevin coats of arms suggest that it was commissioned by Ladislas to commemorate his father's victory and strengthen his claim to the throne of Naples.
Bernhard Degenhart and Annegrit Schmitt. Corpus der italienischen Zeichungen, 1300–1450. Vol. 2, part 2, Venedig; Addenda zu Süd- und Mittelitalien. Berlin, 1980, pp. 411, 415 n. 32, under no. 716, figs. 700–702 (details), say it must have been painted before 1414, the year of Ladislas's death.
Miklós Boskovits. Letter to Everett Fahy. June 13, 1981, attributes it to the painter of MMA 32.75.2a–c; reconstructs the artist's oeuvre, and argues that he must have been trained in Florence since his style "reveals connections with the Orcagneschi".
Ferdinando Bologna. "Ancora sui marchigiani a Napoli agli inizi del XV secolo e due opere inedite del Maestro dei Penna." Paragone 36 (January–March–May 1985), pp. 90–91 n. 18.
Silvana Musella Guida inLa pittura in Italia: il Duecento e il Trecento. Ed. Enrico Castelnuovo. revised and expanded ed. [Milan], 1986, vol. 2, p. 653, suggests that the artist was among the "Pittori di Galatina," active in Salento in the early fifteenth century and responsible for the frescoes in Santa Caterina d'Alessandria, Galatina.
Pierluigi Leone de Castris. Arte di corte nella Napoli angioina. Florence, 1986, pp. 83, 91 n. 1, figs. 3, 4 (color, overall and detail), as by a Neapolitan master active at the end of the fourteenth or the beginning of the fifteenth century.
Fausta Navarro inLa pittura in Italia: il Quattrocento. Ed. Federico Zeri. [Milan], 1986, vol. 2, p. 402, accepts Bologna's [see Ref. 1969] attribution and identification of the subject.
Pierluigi Leone de Castris. "Il 'Maestro dei Penna' uno e due ed altri problemi di pittura primo-quattrocentesca a Napoli." Scritti di storia dell'arte in onore di Raffaello Causa. Naples, 1988, pp. 56, 64 n. 24, observes Florentine and and Spanish influences, indicating that the artist may have trained in Florence and worked in Toledo before coming to Naples.
Leonardo Di Mauro inAll'ombra del Vesuvio: Napoli nella veduta europea dal Quattrocento all'Ottocento. Exh. cat., Castel Sant'Elmo. Naples, 1990, p. 82, follows Ref. Leone de Castris 1986 on authorship and dating.
Jerzy Miziolek. The Rape of Europa and 'Storie' of Mercury on Two Cassone Panels in the Czartoryski Collection in Cracow. 1990, pp. 1, 5, compares its style, figure types, and punch marks to those of a cassone panel showing the Rape of Europa (Czartoryski Collection, Kraków); identifies the king as either Charles or Ladislas and dates it to the early fifteenth century.
Miklós Boskovits. "Il Maestro di Incisa Scapaccino e alcuni problemi di pittura tardogotica in Italia." Paragone 42 (November 1991), pp. 37–38, 46 nn. 13–14, considers the artist Florentine and dates it before June 1409, when Florence joined an alliance against Naples; calls it the Siege of Taranto and finds the three scenes similar to those on Ladislas's funerary monument in San Giovanni a Carbonara, Naples.
Leonardo Di Mauro in Cesare De Seta. Napoli fra Rinascimento e Illuminismo. Naples, 1991, pp. 31, 35, ill. (color details), follows Ref. Leone de Castris 1986 on authorship and dating; identifies the major buildings of Naples schematically rendered in the scene on the left.
Jerzy Miziolek. "Europa and the Winged Mercury on Two Cassone Panels from the Czartoryski Collection." Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 56 (1993), pp. 64–65, 73–74, pls. 14a–d, 14f (overall and details), attributes it to the painter of the Kraków cassone panel showing the Rape of Europa, whom he considers a Florentine active in southern Italy in the early fifteenth century, possibly Spinello Aretino or an artist linked with his workshop; rejects the hypothesis that it formed a pair with the Bargello cassone [see Ref. Navarro 1986], arguing instead that it was given as a wedding gift with the work in Kraków.
Everett Fahy. "Florence and Naples: A Cassone Panel in The Metropolitan Museum of Art." Hommage à Michel Laclotte: Etudes sur la peinture du Moyen Age et de la Renaissance. Milan, 1994, pp. 231–43, ill. (overall and detail), attributes it to a Florentine painter whom he names the Master of Charles of Durazzo and tentatively identifies with Francesco di Michele; calls it the Conquest of Naples by Charles III of Durazzo and dates it 1381–82, soon after Charles's entry into Naples in June 1381, which makes it "the earliest surviving datable cassone panel"; suggests it was made as a gift for the king.
Helmut Nickel. Letter to Everett Fahy. January 26, 1994, confirms that "the arms on the cassone are those that Charles [III of Durazzo] inherited from his father, Louis of Gravina, combined with Jerusalem, which he acquired when he became King of Naples (1382)"; notes that the streamers attached to the Angevin banners are Guelph badges while those attached to Otto of Brunswick's banners have a "pseudo-Guelph device".
Jerzy Miziolek. Soggetti classici sui cassoni fiorentini alla vigilia del Rinascimento. Warsaw, 1996, p. 8 n. 6, pp. 34–37, 63–66, pls. 14, 16, 17, 27a (overall and details), assigns the MMA and Kraków cassone panels to the same artist, calling him the Master of the Siege of Naples, and suggests that both works were made as gifts for Charles III of Durazzo.
John T. Paoletti and Gary M. Radke. Art in Renaissance Italy. Upper Saddle River, N.J., 1997, p. 167, ill. p. 167, front and back cover (overall and color details), call it the Siege of Taranto, probably commissioned by Ladislas for his marriage to Maria d'Enghien in 1407.
Graham Hughes. Renaissance Cassoni, Masterpieces of Early Italian Art: Painted Marriage Chests 1400–1550. Alfriston, England, 1997, p. 232, dates it 1407 and states that it may be by the Master of Ladislas of Durazzo.
Mojmír S. Frinta. "Part I: Catalogue Raisonné of All Punch Shapes." Punched Decoration on Late Medieval Panel and Miniature Painting. Prague, 1998, p. 244, classifies a punch mark appearing in this painting and calls it Florentine-Neapolitan.
Jerzy Miziolek. "Cassoni istoriati with 'Torello and Saladin': Observations on the Origins of a New Genre of Trecento Art in Florence." Italian Panel Painting of the Duecento and Trecento. Ed. Victor M. Schmidt. Washington, 2002, pp. 443, 453–57, 459, 466 nn. 57–58, figs. 12, 16 (overall and detail), finds stylistic similarities in the Bargello and Kraków panels as well as in a cassone front depicting the Story of Lucretia (location unknown), and a fresco by Niccolò di Pietro Gerini (Museo del Bigallo, Florence).
Luciano Bellosi inDa Ambrogio Lorenzetti a Sandro Botticellli. Exh. cat., Fabrizio Moretti. Florence, 2003, pp. 134, 136.
Claudia Däubler-Hauschke. Geburt und Memoria: zum italienischen Bildtyp der "deschi da parto". Munich, 2003, p. 210.
Lorenzo Sbaraglio inFascino del bello: opere d'arte dalla collezione Terruzzi. Ed. Annalisa Scarpa and Michelangelo Lupo. Exh. cat., Complesso del Vittoriano, Rome. Milan, 2007, p. 405, under no. I.9, dates it 1381–82.
Jacqueline Marie Musacchio inArt and Love in Renaissance Italy. Ed. Andrea Bayer. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2008, p. 149.
Alan Chong inThe Triumph of Marriage: Painted Cassoni of the Renaissance. Exh. cat., Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Boston, 2008, p. 85.
Jacqueline Marie Musacchio inThe Triumph of Marriage: Painted Cassoni of the Renaissance. Exh. cat., Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Boston, 2008, pp. 39, 44 n. 15, p. 45 n. 29, fig. 23 (color), states that "it was likely commissioned by one of the Florentines who served in Charles's troops and wanted to celebrate for posterity his role in the victory".
Virginia Brilliant inThe Triumph of Marriage: Painted Cassoni of the Renaissance. Exh. cat., Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Boston, 2008, fig. 14a (color detail).
Lorenzo Sbaraglio inVirtù d'amore: pittura nuziale nel Quattrocento fiorentino. Ed. Claudio Paolini et al. Exh. cat., Galleria dell'Accademia. Florence, 2010, pp. 105–8, fig. 3 (color).
Pierluigi Leone de Castris inLa bella Italia: arte e identità delle città capitali. Ed. Antonio Paolucci. Exh. cat., Reggia di Venaria, Venaria Reale. Cinisello Balsamo, Milan, 2011, pp. 234, 240–41, no. 6.1.2, ill. (color), dates it about 1399–1402; attributes it to an unknown artist who trained in Florence, close to Agnolo Gaddi, and then must have spent time in Spain, as seen from the ornate pastiglia decoration.
Old Master & British Paintings. Christie's, London. April 30, 2015, p. 7, under no. 402.
Andrea De Marchi inLe opere e i giorni: exempla virtutis, favole antiche, e vita quotidiana nel racconto dei cassoni rinascimentali. Ed. Andrea De Marchi and Lorenzo Sbaraglio. Exh. cat., Museo Stibbert, Florence. Signa, 2015, p. 16.
Marta Vizzini inLe opere e i giorni: exempla virtutis, favole antiche, e vita quotidiana nel racconto dei cassoni rinascimentali. Ed. Andrea De Marchi and Lorenzo Sbaraglio. Exh. cat., Museo Stibbert, Florence. Signa, 2015, p. 91.
Lorenzo Sbaraglio inLe opere e i giorni: exempla virtutis, favole antiche, e vita quotidiana nel racconto dei cassoni rinascimentali. Ed. Andrea De Marchi and Lorenzo Sbaraglio. Exh. cat., Museo Stibbert, Florence. Signa, 2015, p. 94.
Aside from the outermost black molding, the framing motifs of this cassone panel, including the raised gesso decoration, punchwork, gilding, and silhouetted dragons, are all original and of great refinement.