Love and Marriage in Renaissance Florence: The Courtauld Wedding Chests, 12 February – 17 May 2009, The Courtauld Institute of Art, Somerset House, Strand, London.
A marriage in 15th century Florence was not primarily about love or religion. Instead it was a dynastic alliance between powerful families.
To celebrate these marriages, pairs of great chests, lavishly decorated with precious metals and elaborate paintings, were commissioned. These items – now generally called cassoni – were often the most expensive of a whole suite of decorative objects commissioned to celebrate marriage alliances between powerful families. They were displayed in Florentine palaces and used to store precious items such as clothes and textiles.
The painted panels set into the wedding chests tell fascinating tales from ancient Greece, Rome and Palestine, as well as from Florentine literature and more recent history. These beautifully told stories were intended to entertain as well as to instruct husband and wife, their servants, children and visitors.
The exhibition Love and Marriage in Renaissance Florence: The Courtauld Wedding Chests is the first in the UK to explore this important and neglected art form of Renaissance Florence. The exhibition is focused around two of The Courtauld’s great treasures: the pair of chests ordered in 1472 by the Florentine Lorenzo Morelli to celebrate his marriage with Vaggia Nerli. These are the only pair of cassoni to be still displayed with their painted backboards (spalliere).The unusual survival of both the chests and their commissioning documents enables a full examination of this remarkable commission.
The Courtauld cassoni are displayed alongside other superb examples of chests and panels. Discover the stories behind these chests and gain rich insights into Florentine art and life at the height of the city’s glory.
Also on display are panels painted by Giovanni Toscani (act. 1423, d. 1430). One work depicts a story from Boccaccio's Decameron in three scenes.
The exhibition will reflect the extensive subject matter used in cassone painting. This included stories intended to divert and give pleasure to the husband and wife. But they often contained a strong moral message. For example, the pair of paintings by Giovanni Toscani reunited in the exhibition for the first time in over 150 years — represent a story from Boccaccio’s Decameron. For having accused Ginevra falsely of adultery, Ambrogiuolo was punished by being stung to death by bees. The stories chosen for other chests emphasised ideal virtues such as bravery, constancy, obedience and prudence; models which members of a patrician family might strive to emulate.
Art in Tuscany | Watch three short films about the exhibition
Virtu' d'Amore or Nuptial Art Exhibit, at La Galleria dell'Accademia in Florence
Galleria dell'Accademia, Florence | The virtues of love | Nuptial painting in XV century Florence
The bedroom was the fulcrum of the Renaissance home: the most intimate and protected place where the wedding was consumed, children were born, and one died. Spalliere/headboards like the so-called Cassone Adimari of the Galleria dell'Accademia, which occasions the exhibition, and the historiated panels of chests are extraordinary testimonies of the Florentine Renaissance home, high fashion, the celebration of festivities, the rituality that accompanied marriage, from engagement to the wife's entrance into her husband's house.
The exhibition, divided between the Horne Museum and the Galleria dell'Accademia, features over 40 artworks created in the 14th century. The paintings were all commissioned for weddings and designed as ornamentation for lavish furniture, such as chests and bedsteads, destined for the couple's new bedroom. As well as decoration, the paintings' chief purpose was to educate newly-weds on the duties of married couples, particularly the role of women within the home. Rather than the romantic ideal of marriage celebrated by modern Italian society, a sense of duty and obligation is often core to these paintings. The stories depict wedding ceremonies, sumptuous banquets and the exchange of rings between bride and groom, all part of the long journey towards marriage that involved an elaborate series of contacts and contracts driven by wealth and politics rather than love.
The artworks feature tales inspired by biblical stories, classical myths and "modern" authors such as Petrarch and Giovanni Boccaccio. A painting by Francesco Pesellino, for example, illustrates the famous Decameron tale of Griselda, whose patience and obedience to her husband's whims and tests were eventually rewarded.
Central place in the exhibition goes to a painting by Giovanni di Ser Giovanni Guidi, also known as Lo Scheggia. The artwork, which goes by the name of the Adimari Chest (Cassone Adimari), was designed as decoration for a bedstead and depicts an elaborate nuptial procession believed to be that of Boccaccio Adimari and Lisa Ricasoli in 1420. The Cassone Adimari is considered particularly unique for its meticulously elaborate costumes and the detailed panorama it offers of Florence's medieval streets.
Among the other artworks are two panels by Bartolomeo di Giovanni, illustrating colourful festivities at the Wedding of Peleus and Thetis, a popular mythological subject of love triumphing in the face of difficult circumstances.
The exhibition also gives visitors a unique opportunity to admire side-by-side four panels designed by Sandro Botticelli in 1475 to decorate two matching chests. The paintings, which depict episodes from the biblical Book of Esther, have been separated for centuries and are normally housed in separate collections in Ottawa, Rome and Florence.
Although many of these wedding artworks can still be enjoyed today, almost none of the furniture they were intended to decorate has survived. The original chest painted by Giovanni Toscani and depicting the Palio of San Giovanni celebration is therefore particularly rare.
Immagini Scaricabili | Download images
Cadogan, Jeanne K., Maestri toscani del Quattrocento: Lorenzo Monaco, Ghiberti, Paolo Uccello, Filippo Lippi, Pesellino, Andrea del Castagno, Ghirlandaio, Bartolomeo di Giovanni, Benozzo Gozzoli, Firenze, Istituto Alinari, 1980.
Pons, Nicoletta, Bartolomeo di Giovanni, collaboratore di Ghirlandaio e Botticelli, Firenze : Polistampa, 2004.
Garzelli, Annarosa, Il ricamo nella attività artistica di Pollaiolo, Botticelli, Bartolomeo di Giovanni, Firenze, Editrice Edam, 1973.
 Cassoni (singular cassone) is the name given to Italian Renaissance painted chests. In fifteenth-century Italy pairs of cassoni were often commissioned at the time of marriage. Cassoni were made throughout Italy. However, they were particularly associated with Tuscany and Florence. Painted chests were sometimes part of the procession which a bride made from her father's house to her new home with her husband and his family. They would contain her trousseau (dowry).
Cassoni were valuable possessions. They were generally displayed in a man's camera (chamber), one of the most important rooms in a house. These chests were decorated with paintings of popular stories. These were drawn from the most familiar literature of the day: including the works of the Italian poets Boccaccio, Petrarch and Dante, the Old Testament, and ancient Greek and Roman history. Paintings of ancient heroes like Scipio - who returned a beautiful female captive to her fiancé - told young husbands how to behave towards their wives. They were to treat them with respect, but the men were to remember that they were ultimately in control. Painted chests often stayed in families for generations. They were not just precious in themselves, but symbolised important marriage alliances.
Children could take their first lessons from cassoni . The pictures on their fronts were close to the ground - a perfect viewing height for children.