The mythical inhabitants of distant, exotic oceans, possibly transmitted by ancient Roman sources, as well as drawings, prints, and other media, including medieval bestiary descriptions, were accessible in a large variety of artistic compositions that could easily be adapted to create reliefs like those on the Lehman cassone. The influence of the shape and decoration of Roman sarcophagi and the inventions of Renaissance artists such as Andrea Mantegna and Giulio Romano is evident.(1) A sea monster with a griffin’s or eagle’s head similar to that on the present cassone’s left side is shown prominently in a composition of the story of Hannibal by Giulio Romano (1499 – 1546).(2) The depiction of a capricorn on the right end may signal a particular importance for this constellation, possibly as a heraldic guardian, to the patron. However, in the context of the subject of the carved front panel and the creature with a bird-of-prey head on the other side, it does not seem to reflect a political connotation as in the case of a pair of cassoni in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. There the mythical beast is emblematic of Cosimo I de’ Medici and his influence over Siena.(3) A chest design drawing attributed to Girolamo da Carpi illustrating similar sea creatures and the preference for dynamically arranged figurative decoration is in The Metropolitan Museum of Art.(4) A closely related cassone with astonishing affinities is in the Cleveland Museum of Art and another is in the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.(5) Comparable works in European collections are also known.(6) For painting collectors of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries such attractive and voluminous cassoni had an aesthetic and functional effect. When placed under a sizable painting, a cassone emulated the noble displays in Italian Renaissance palazzi, but its proportions and depth also suited a New York mansion by providing a protective barrier between visitors and artwork.
Catalogue entry from: Wolfram Koeppe. The Robert Lehman Collection. Decorative Arts, Vol. XV. Wolfram Koeppe, et al. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art in association with Princeton University Press, 2012, pp. 200-02.
1. Andrea Mantegna, Exhibition, Royal Academy of Arts, 17 January – 5 April 1992; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 9 May – 12 July 1992. Catalogue by Suzanne Boorsch, Keith Christiansen, David Ekserdjian, Charles Hope, and David Landau. Edited by Jane Martineau; Giulio Romano, pinxit et delineavit: Opere grafiche autografe di collaborazione e bottega. Exhibition, Istituto Nazionale per la Grafica, 11 February – 10 April 1993. Catalogue by Stefania Massari. Rome, 1993. See also Rumpf, Andreas. Die Meerwesen auf den antiken Sarkophagreliefs. Berlin, 1939, p. 43, no. 38. [Reprint ed., Rome, 1969.]
2. Rome 1993, p. 43, no. 38.
3. Henneberg, Josephine von. “Two Renaissance Cassoni for Cosimo i de’Medici in the Victoria and Albert Museum.” Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorischen Institutes in Florenz 35, , 1991, no. 1, pp. 115 – 32. Similar side panel solutions were popular in the Italian Renaissance; see DuBon, David. “Renaissance Furniture: Sixteenth-Century Italian and French, ” p. 38 and ill. p. 39. In The Frick Collection: An Illustrated Catalogue, vol. 5, Furniture: Italian and French, edited by Joseph Focarino, pp. 3 – 183. New York, 1992.
4. Metropolitan Museum, 1998.465b (Beyond Nobility: Art for the Private Citizen in the Early Renaissance. Exhibition, Allentown Art Museum, 28 September 1980 – 4 January 1981. Catalogue by Ellen Callmann. Allentown, 1980, p. 35, no. 29; the drawing was then in a private collection). See also Schottmuller, Frida. Furniture and Interior Decoration of the Italian Renaissance. 2nd ed. Stuttgart, 1928, p. xxxv, fig. 36 (drawing attributed by Schottmüller to Bernardo Buontalenti, after 1550, in the Gabinetto Disegni e Stampe degli Uffizi, Florence).
5. The Cleveland Museum of Art, 1942.607 (Handbook. Cleveland Museum of Art, 1966, p. 99); J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles (Bremer-David, Charissa. With Peggy Fogelman, Peter Fusco, and Catherine Hess. Decorative Arts: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue of the Collections of the J. Paul Getty Museum. Malibu, 1993, p. 184, no. 309).
6. See, for example, cassoni with similar corner figures in the Museo Horne, Florence (Massinelli, Anna Maria. Il mobile toscano. Milan, 1993, p. 50, fig. 73; Paolini, Claudio. Il mobile del Rinascimento: La collezione Herbert Percy Horne. Florence, 2002, pp. 87 – 89, no. 22); the Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence (Gregori, Mina, Renato Ruotolo, and Luisa Bandera Gregori. Il mobile italiano: Dal Rinascimento agli anni trenta. I quaderni dell’antiquariato. Collana di arti decorative 14. Milan, 1981, ill. p. 19); and the Museo Poldi Pezzoli, Milan (Museo Poldi Pezzoli. Vol. 3, Ceramiche, vetri, mobili e arredi. Musei e gallerie di Milano. Milan, 1983, p. 314, no. 12, p. 352, pl. 16). See Faenson, Liubov, Ed. Italian Cassoni from the Art Collections of Soviet Museums. Leningrad, 1983, pls. 47 – 51, for a related work in the State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg.