Glossary of Terms and Introduction

Painting as an art form was much less problematically aligned with the decorative arts during the Renaissance than it is today. Divisions that exist now between fine art and artisanal or craft work were much less distinct among Quattrocento and Cinquecento artists. Many of the Decameron visualizations that are available for our examination today are examples of the blurred lines between painting and the decorative arts. Furniture pieces such as cassoni were often the site of elaborate works by masters such as Sandro Botticelli or anonymous artists functioning within the workshop system. And yet Cristelle Baskins in "Griselda, or The Renaissance Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelor in Tuscan Cassone Painting" notes that contemporary approaches to cassoni as a genre of Renaissance secular painting... cassone chests are often characterized as low, decorative arts against the master canon of Renaissance secular painting with its sources in elite culture and elevated textual traditions.

Contemporary art historical approaches are only recently beginning to open up to consider the financial and social context of cassoni and spalliera paintings. The prominent presence of coats of arms and family seals points to the overt intent of the patron to identify themselves with the opulence of cassoni or spalliera painting. The presence of regulations in the sumptuary laws of the period offers another indication of the impact of such public displays of material prosperity.

Glossary of Terms [see also the essay "Nuptial Furnishings in the Italian Renaissance," part of the online catalog of the exhibition Art and Love in the Italian Reinassance, currently at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY, November 2008-February 2009]

Cassone: An expensive wedding chest, commissioned months in advance of an actual wedding by the groom's family. The chests were an important part of the marriage ceremony, functioning as a material display of the wealth and ritual gift exchange important to Renaissance wedding ceremonies during the wedding procession from the bride's father's home to the groom's home. Cassoni represented a part of the counter-dowry, a gift from the groom's family which insured the union through economic reciprocity. The chest was also an elaborate symbol, embodying the richness of the bride's trousseau, which was transported inside the cassone during the wedding procession. After the nuptials, cassoni became permanent furnishings in the newlyweds' living quarters.

Desco da parto: These round wooden trays were commissioned on the occasion of births and marriages. Both sides of the tray were generally painted, and one side was normally decorated with imagery of triumphs or allegories of birth and fecundity. Deschi were used to bring a new mother her meals during her postpartum recovery.

Affresco: Painting executed directly on the wall on wet gesso. These are permanent decorations that were often commissioned in cycles or series to fill an entire room. They tend toward more narrative, biblical and mythological themes because of the broad scope of the medium.

Parentado: an alliance between two families forged through the marriage of members of different clans. Cassoni, spalliere and deschi da parto were often commissioned to celebrate marriages and the formation of new parentadi.

Spalliera: painting on canvas or panels of wood designed and commissioned to be viewed at eye or shoulder level (the name in fact derives from the Italian for shoulder, spalla) above cassoni in marital bedchambers. Spalliere, painted from about 1450 onward, were originally meant to enhance the imagery on painted cassoni, but by the end of the fifteenth century they had become more popular than the chests themselves. In the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century, spalliere were often permanently imbedded into the mortar of a wall, thus becoming part of the wainscoting of the room. These paintings were often exceedingly opulent and rich in detail, but would normally have been commissioned only after major frescos had been installed at a higher level on the wall.

Bottega (Workshop): The workshop system allowed for a symbiotic relationship between young artists, or apprentices, who were able to study under the tutelage of a master painter, and master artists, who were afforded a crew of working artists who could jointly execute large scale commissions.

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(S. A. & C. C.) Bibliography: Baskins, Cristelle L. "Griselda, or The Renaissance Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelor in Tuscan Cassone Painting", Stanford Italian Review X:2 (1991): 153-175; Callmann, Ellen. "Subjects from Boccaccio in Italian Painting, 1375-1525" Studi sul Boccaccio, Firenze: Sansoni Editore, 23 (1995):19-78; Olsen, Cristina. "Gross Expenditure: Botticelli's Nastagio degli Onesti Panels" Art History, 15, no. 2, (June 1992) 146-170; Watson, Paul F. "A Preliminary List of Subjects from Boccaccio in Italian Painting, 1400-1550" Studi sul Boccaccio, Firenze: Sansoni Editore, 15 (1985-6): 149-166.