This rectangular walnut constructed chest has carving and partial gilt on paw feet and a high stepped lid. The long center panel on the front is divided in the middle by a carved grotesque cartouche frame enclosing a painted coat of arms. The base has gadrooning and the reclining figure of a bearded man with a horn of plenty. The shield is supported by winged putti. On each side are multifigured mythological scenes. The sculpted statuettes of prisoners stand on rams’-head consoles on the corners. Renaissance cassoni from Tuscany and Rome of the second half of the sixteenth and the early seventeenth century are characterized by skillfully executed relief carvings that either illustrate narratives, often after ancient Roman writers, or are lavishly ornamental. The group of cassoni in the Robert Lehman Collection offers the opportunity to study both. The type of the present work (with scenes of The Life of Scipio Africanus?) is related to another Lehman chest with the story of Jason and the Argonauts (No. 128). The prisoners on the corners are very similar to the Dracian captives shown on the corners of No. 128 but do not have caps that could distinguish their origin.(1) A drawing in The Metropolitan Museum of Art of the Arch of Constantine in Rome that is attributed to Bartolomeo Neroni (1505/15 – 1571) illustrates related figures.(2) The paint of the coat of arms has discolored and has therefore likely changed considerably. Future scientific analysis of the colors, possible paint, and discolorations could reveal the exact identity of the arms. The heraldic elements, however, point to the region of Tuscany. The lambello with four pendenti in red with fleurs-de-lis on gold, surmounting a rampant bear, are all heraldic parts of the arms of the Berlingeri family of Siena.(3) The reclining male figure that provides a bracketshaped support of the coat-of-arms cartouche is influenced by similar depictions of ancient river gods that were widespread motifs of the Italian Renaissance.(4) Cassoni in this form were highly esteemed by the collector William R. Hearst, who owned the present chest for some years and was well known for his eccentric interests, especially regarding prominent carved wood objects.(5)
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. 198-99.
1. See also Feulner, Adolf. Stiftung Sammlung Schloss Rohoncz. Vol. 3, Plastik und Kunsthandwerk. Lugano-Castagnola, 1941, p. 113, no. 341, pl. 51 (with “captives” on the front corners and the back of the sides); Faenson, Liubov, Ed. Italian Cassoni from the Art Collections of Soviet Museums. Leningrad, 1983, pls. 165 – 76.
2. Metropolitan Museum, 80.3.585.
3. Arme delle famiglie nobili di Siena 1716; Brandi, Cesare, Ed. Palazzo Pubblico di Siena: Vicende costruttive e decorazione. Siena, 1983, ill. p. 404.
4. Pedrini, Augusto. Il mobilio: Gli ambienti et le decorazioni del Rinascimento in Italia, secoli XV e XVI. Genoa, 1969, p. 39, figs. 68, 69 (painting by Giorgio Vasari, before 1565, in the coffered ceiling of the Salone del Cinquecento, Palazzo della Signoria, Florence); Rome 1993, pp. 42 – 44, no. 38, pp. 101 – 3, no. 95; Geissler, Thomas. “Discoveries on a Pair of Cassoni.” V&A Conservation Journal, no. 55 (Spring), 2007, fig. 1 (left panel).
5. Hearst: The Collector. Exhibition, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 9 November 2008 – 1 February 2009. Catalogue by Mary L. Levkoff. New York and Los Angeles, 2008.