Chest, usually of wood, intended to contain a bride's dowry or to be given as a wedding present. It was the most elaborately decorated piece of furniture in Renaissance Italy. In the 15th century, wealthy Florentine families employed artists such as Sandro Botticelli and Paolo Uccello to decorate cassoni with paintings. They were often made in pairs, bearing the respective coats of arms of the bride and groom. Though cassoni were made in many countries, the finest come from Italy.
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The cassone ("large chest") was one of the trophy furnishings of rich merchants and aristocrats in Italian culture, from the Late Middle Ages onward. The cassone was the most important piece of furniture of that time. It was given to a bride and placed in the bridal suite. It would be given to the bride during the wedding, and it was the bride's parents's contribution to the wedding. Since a cassone contained the personal goods of the bride, it was a natural vehicle for painted decoration commemorating the marriage in heraldry and, when figural painted panels began to be included in the decor from the early quattrocento, flattering allegory. The side panels offered a flat surface for a suitable painting, with subjects drawn from courtly romance or from Scripture or holy legends. Great Florentine artists of the 15th century were called upon to decorate cassoni. Some Tuscan artists in Siena and Florence specialized in such cassone panels, which were preserved as autonomous works of art by 19th century collectors and dealers, who sometimes discarded the cassone itself. From the late 1850s, neo-Renaissance cassoni were confected for dealers like William Blundell Spence, Stefano Bardini or Elia Volpi in order to present surviving cassone panels to clients in a more "authentic" and galmorous presentation.
A typical place for such a cassone was in a chamber at the foot of a bed that was enclosed in curtains. Such a situation is a familiar setting for depictions of the Annunciation or the Visitation of St. Anne to the Virgin Mary. A cassone was largely immovable. In a culture where chairs were reserved for important personages, often pillows scattered upon the floor of a chamber provided informal seating, and a cassone could provide both a backrest and a table surface. The symbolic "humility" that modern scholars read into Annunciations where the Virgin sits reading upon the floor, perhaps underestimates this familiar mode of seating.
In the 15th century, a new classicising style arose, and early Renaissance cassoni of central and northern Italy were carved and partly gilded, and given classical décor, with panels flanked by fluted corner pilasters, under friezes and cornices, or with sculptural panels in high or low relief. Some early sixteenth-century cassoni drew their inspiration from Roman sarcophagi. By the mid-sixteenth century Giorgio Vasari could remark on the old-fashioned cassoni with paiunted scenes, examples of which could be seen in the palazzi of Florentine families.
A cassone that has been provided with a high panelled back and sometimes a footrest, for both hieratic and practical reasons, becomes a cassapanca ("chest-bench"). Cassapanche were immovably fixed in the main public room of a palazzo, the sala or salone. They were part of the immobili ("unmoveables"), perhaps even more than the removable glazed window casements, and might be left in place, even if the palazzo passed to another family.
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