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

The Private Role of Cassoni

While cassoni were lavishly embellished for their ephemeral appearance in the wedding procession, they played a much more modest, practical role than in the home of the newlyweds. Cassoni were typically placed length-wise against bedroom walls and at the ends of beds, and used to store linens and jewelry and to provide extra seating. Since one side of cassone was always hidden, artisans left this side unfinished. Furthermore, the chests’ hind legs had flat backs so that they could be placed tightly up against walls. Thus, placement of cassoni in the room influenced their design.

Aside from their practical role, cassoni had a meaningful role within the marriage. Since grooms ordered the chests in pairs, many experts believe that the two pieces symbolized the bride and the groom. Because the inside lids of many chests featured paintings of nude men and women who had the names of gods and goddesses from classical love stories, it may be that the chests represented love in general, rather than their specific owners. Additionally, the elaborate paintings on the outsides of cassoni often featured other scenes that illustrated the themes of love and unity, one of the most common being the Garden of Love. Other scenes depicted the couple's shared values, and established high moral goals, such as courage and chastity. However, not all cassoni were painted with narrative scenes. When cassoni were merely carved, perhaps the simple fact that two chests completed one whole set represented the relationship between newlyweds. Regardless, cassoni held personal significance for the couples to which they belonged.


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