Scholarship on Cassoni

In his Lives of the Painters, Sculptors and Architects Giorgio Vasari wrongly attributed the invention of the painted chest to Dello Delli, and until the early twentieth century many cassoni were attributed to this artist based solely on this reference.1 The first modern art historian to devote himself to the study of cassoni was the German scholar Paul Schubring, who in 1915 published Cassoni Truhen und Truhenbilder der italienischen Fruhrenaissance. Ein Beitrag zur Profanmalerei in Quattrocento, which remains today the most comprehensive catalogue of cassoni.2 Not only did Schubring include images of hundreds of marriage chests and birth trays, but he also presented important theories on their usage and the reasons for their particular size and shape. He suggested that the length and breadth of cassoni were determined by the measurements of a bride's clothing, and that the depth was always roughly an arms' length, which made all the contents easily accessible.3 Schubring was also the first to interpret and define the many literary origins for the images painted onto the chests. He cited Homer, Virgil, Ovid, Livy and Plutarch as classical sources for the painted narratives, and Petrarch, Boccaccio and Dante and historical events as more contemporary sources of inspiration for cassoni painters.

Since Schubring's fundamental work, many different scholars have thought and written about cassoni. These have primarily been art historians such as Ellen Callmann, Paul Watson, and Cristelle Baskins, but have also included social historians, like Christiane Klapisch-Zuber, who has used cassoni as a way to understand women's role in the society of early modern Italy. While cassoni also feature in histories of furniture, such as Peter Thornton's detailed work The Italian Renaissance Interior, 1400-1600, these objects were clearly more than just household furnishings to those that commissioned and owned them. The very fact that we have examples of them intact today, more than five hundred years after they were most popular, is a signal of their importance as symbols of status, wealth, and prestige. Martin Wackernagel has in fact suggested that the cassoni listed by Schubring represent only an eighth or a tenth of the original body of objects in the fifteenth century.4

  1. Hughes, Graham. Renaissance Cassoni: Masterpieces of Early Italian Art. (London: Art Books International, 1997) 42. 
  2. Schubring, Paul. Cassoni Truhen und Truhenbilder der italienischen Fruhrenaissance. Ein Beitrag zur Profanmalerei in Quattrocento. (Leipzig: Verlag von Kar W. Hierseman, 1923) 
  3. Hughes, G. 44.
  4. Wackernagel, Martin. The World of the Florentine Renaissance Artist: projects and patrons, workshop and art market. trans. Alison Luchs. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981) 159.