Exhibiting Historical Art: Out of the Vault: Stories of People and Things

Possible Provenance

It is probable that the chest on display is a pastiche—a compilation of pieces from various time periods. Throughout the sixteenth century, the popularity of cassoni waned; however, during the nineteenth century, the chests became fashionable again. William Bundell Spence, a prominent English collector, generated widespread taste for them among European collectors. At that time, many capricious collectors purchased pieces of doubtful origin. Due to the poor condition of most original cassoni, artisans dismantled them and inserted the painted panels into new chests in order to appeal to Victorian buyers. Many cassoni displayed in museums today, such as this chest owned by the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum and this chest from the Bagatti Valsecchi Museum in Italy, were constructed in this fashion, but resemble authentic Renaissance pieces to the untrained eye. Although the chest in the Vanderbilt collection is not painted, it is possible that it was also constructed in this manner during the nineteenth century when cassoni reached the height of their popularity.

It is also possible that the chest was created after World War II, when Italian artisans combined elements of destroyed buildings and furniture into new pieces, which were passed off as authentic antiques to unsuspecting tourists.

No matter when or how the pastiche was created, this alternative history for the chest explains the the inconsistencies in its condition.


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