This chest type is similar to that of No. 125, although the carving here is of lesser quality. The chest’s state of preservation reflects its age. Each side panel is decorated with a massive grotesque mask rendered in an Egyptianizing Mannerist style and wearing an exotic headdress consisting of a draped scarf knotted on the forehead and a fan-shaped feather ornament. The bulging base molding has a background with scale ornaments and hanging swags with shield cartouche ornaments that bear, on the left, a stylized Maltese cross and, on the right, the Ottoman crescent moon. The pairing may allude to the struggle of the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, Knights Hospitaller, which, driven from its Rhodes headquarters by the Ottoman Turks in 1522, established itself on Malta in 1530. The order, now known as the Knights of Malta, was dedicated to protecting Christian pilgrims on the way to Jerusalem from pirates and Malta from an Ottoman invasion. The combination of the emblems on the shields may also refer to the battle of Lepanto that took place on 7 October 1571; if so, this date would set a terminus post quem for the creation of the present chest. There is also a possible connection between the knightly order’s quest as Christian warriors and the subject displayed on the front panel. The carving represents episodes from Greek mythology concerning the hero Jason’s quest for the legendary Golden Fleece; the scenes depicting episodes from the story of Jason and the Argonauts follow the Roman writer Gaius Valerius Flaccus (died ca. a.d. 90).(1) The left panel likely shows Jason meeting Hypsipyle, queen of Lemnos, an island off the west coast of what is now modern Turkey, whereas the right panel presents Jason with the princess Medea, who would become his wife. The prisoners on the corners can be identified by their costumes as the kings of Parthia and Armenia, respectively, following the model of the famous “Farnese Captives” in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Naples.(2) An extensive list of related cassoni with these figures documents the popularity of the subject of the Dacians in the Renaissance.(3) Bliss recognized the present chest as a pair to a cassone in the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, although there are differences between the two.(4)
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. 202-03.
1. Valerius Flaccus, Gaius. (ed.) Valerius Flaccus. Translated by J. H. Mozley. Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge, Mass., 1934.
2. 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, p. 122.
3. Ibid., p. 130, n. 22. See also Pedrini, Augusto. Il mobilio: Gli ambienti et le decorazioni del Rinascimento in Italia, secoli XV e XVI. Genoa, 1969, figs. 256, 257;
Faenson, Liubov, Ed. Italian Cassoni from the Art Collections of Soviet Museums. Leningrad, 1983, pls. 165 – 76; Windisch-Graetz, Franz. Möbel Europas: Renaissance und Manierismus, vom 15. Jahrhundert bis in die erste Hälfte des 17. Jahrhunderts. Munich, 1983, p. 229, ill. no. 60.
4. Joseph Bliss, note of 10 February 1984 (Robert Lehman Collection files); Bliss, Joseph R. “Decorative Arts from Byzantium to Edwardian Europe.” Magazine Antiques 138, no. 2 (August), 1990, p. 271. Similar chests are known: Thornton, Peter. “Cassoni, Forzieri, Goffani, and Cassette: Terminology and Its Problems.” Apollo 120 (October), 1984, fig. 13; 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. 181, no. 310; Dubon, David. “Renaissance Furniture: Sixteenth-Century Italian and French.” In The Frick Collection: An Illustrated Catalogue, vol. 5, Furniture: Italian and French, edited by Joseph Focarino, pp. 3 – 183. New York, 1992, pp. 34 – 55. Another cassone with the rare subject of Jason is in the Louvre, Paris.