A pair of Italian Renaissance carved walnut and parcel-gilt cassoni, with the armorials of Strozzi and Carnesecchi, Florentine 16th century
Almost certainly given as a gift upon the occasion of the marriage of Giovanni Strozzi (son of Maria di Renato Pazzi and Leonardo Strozzi) to Maria Carnesecchi during the first half of the 16th century
The Collection of Baron James de Rothschild (see fig. 1), formerly in le salon bleu, Château de Ferrières, Ferrières-en-Brie, Seine-et-Marne, France (see fig. 2), reproduced here from a watercolour by A. Serebriakoff, (see fig. 3).
Thence by descent to Baron Guy de Rothschild (1909-2007), Château de Ferrières, Ferrières-en-Brie, Seine-et-Marne, France.
Augusto Pedrini, Italian Furniture Interiors and Decoration of the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries, London, 1949, p. 90, fig. 234, p. 93, fig, 242.
Clarissa Bremer-David, Decorative Arts, An Illustrated Summary Catalogue of the Collections of the J. Paul Getty Museum, Malibu, California, 1993, p. 185, no. 311.
Daniëlle O.Kisluk-Grosheide et al, European Furniture in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Highlights of the Collection, New York, 2006, p. 22, fig. 10.
These marriage cassoni are extremely rare due to their survival in such original condition, their superlative carved decoration and the luxurious impression given by the elements highlighted in parcel-gilt. These cassoni had originally been regilt in the 19th century by the Rothschild family but have since been painstakingly brought back to their original condition revealing their original gilding and coat-of-arms.
The presence of the coat-of-arms on these cassoni obviously commemorates the marriage between the celebrated fabulously wealthy Florentine families:Strozzi and Carnesecchi.
The versatility of the chest made it a popular bridal present from the 13th century onwards. Up until the 16th century, even the most luxurious palaces had very few items of furniture and contemporary inventories record that cassone were the only pieces of furniture of which affluent people had many examples in no small part due to their utilitarian function. They were, however, not constructed by a lowly carpenter but a craftsman belonging to a guild specialising in the production of cassoni.
During the Renaissance the cassone's use became limited to storing clothes. When the cassone was given as a wedding present it was usually given in pairs, with the coat-of-arms of the bride and that of the groom on the respective panels.The artistic ability of Italian craftsmen during the Renaissance, meant that chests were adorned with sculpture representing historical, mythological or naturalistic subjects. Architects, sculptors and artists almost certainly must have played some role in the design of these cassoni.
The form and decoration of the Renaissance cassone derives both from ancient marble sarcophagi and also contemporary Renaissance tombs. The Antique prototypes were often supported on elaborately carved supports. Supporting figures held medallions or wreaths and corner figures were often employed facing forward but also set diagonally as on the present pair; the corner figure's function was two-fold as decoration and to conceal the joins of the front and sides of the cassone. The acanthus leaf was the most commonly employed motif, whilst the merging of the rinceaux which was widely employed in Antiquity with the supporting figures was also common on Renaissance furniture. There exists a rare surviving drawing from the late 16th century from Rome, showing alternative forms of chests, illustrated by Kisluk-Grosheide, op. cit., p. 22, fig. 10, one of which is reproduced here in fig.4., which shows the design for a cassone with similarly boldly scrolling acanthus on the front panel as on the present pair.
The quality and imaginative design of the carving are outstanding and obviously the work of a talented artist. Drawings and contemporary interior views prove the existence of pedestals in Renaissance times.
The most similar cassoni to the present pair in terms of form and decoration include:
-A parcel-gilt and walnut cassone, Tuscan,16th century, of similar form with a raised lid above a concave-sided frieze, the front panel with scrolling acanthus centred by a coat-of-arms, the angles with diagonal female terms on recumbent lion feet, illustrated by Pedrini, op. cit., p. 90, fig. 234, reproduced here in fig.5.
-A parcel–gilt and walnut cassone, Umbrian, 16th century, in the Museo Nazionale, Perugia, of similar form, with a raised lid above a front panel centred by a coat-of-arms flanked by scrolling acanthus, the corners with angled winged bearded male terms, differing from the offered cassoni as it is on recumbent sphinx feet, illustrated by Perdini, op. cit., p. 93, fig. 242, reproduced here in fig.6. It was formerly in the Convent of Orsoline di Calvi, Umbria.
-A pair of partially gilded walnut cassone attributed to Antonio Maffei, Gubbio, dated 155(9?) now in the Getty Museum, Los Angeles. (Accession number 88.D.A.7-.2), conceived in a similar vein on recumbent lion feet, reproduced here in fig.7. Both the prominently displayed coat-of-arms as well as the hand written label inside the chest suggest that the pair were executed for the marriage of Pressilla de'Conti of Foligno to her second husband Cesare Bentivoglio of Gubbio, in the mid 16th century. The artist was most likely Maffei, the most celebrated member of a famous Umbrian family of sculptors and decorative carvers in wood. Both cassoni display the deeply carved scrolling foliage, pronounced architectural motifs and sarcophagus monumental shapes so typical of the High Renaissance.
The Strozzi and the Carnesecchi Family:
The Strozzi family was an ancient Florentine family traceable to the 13th century. Exiled from Florence in 1434 due to their altercations with the Medici family - another renowned family, the Strozzis were allowed to return from their banishment to France in 1466 thanks to the wealth of Filippo Strozzi (1489-1538). A banker, politican and condottiero, he was one of the more well-known figures of the Strozzi family. On their return from exile, the aforementioned set about building a palace in Florence of magnificent proportions. Filippo never saw its completion as he died in 1491 and the palace was confiscated and not returned to the family until 30 years later.
There have been other well known Strozzi family members from the 16th century including Senator Carlo Strozzi (1587-1671)who formed an important library collection, Filippo di Piero Strozzi (1541-1582) who served in the French army and Bernado Strozzi (1581-1644), who was a baroque painter.
The Carnesecchi family was one of the most powerful and influential Florentine families linked to the celebrated Medici family. In 1515, Pope Leon gave the family permission to use his coat-of-arms. The two families of Carnesecchi and Strozzi were extremely close and together they founded the Carnesecchi-Strozzi bank, one of most important banks not only in Florence and Venice circa 1532-1600, but also Europe under the guidance firstly of Bartolomeo Carnesecchi, then his son Zanobi.
Both the Strozzi and Carnesecchi families married into other influential leading Florentine families. Both families were united in the marriage of Giovanni Strozzi (son of Maria di Renato Pazzi and Leonardo Srozzi) to Maria Carnesecchi during the first half of the 16th century. Furthermore, there is a joint Strozzi and Carnessechi coat-of-arms in the Florentine Church of San Francisco di Paola.
The Château de Ferrières and Rothschild Family:
In 1829, the banker, James de Rothschild (1792 –1868) (see fig. 1.), founder of the French branch of the Rothschild business, acquired the Ferrières en Seine et Marne from Joseph Fouché, Duke of D'Otrante. He engaged Joseph Paxton, the architect of Crystal Palace in London, who had previously built Mentmore Towers for his English cousins to build him a new château. At Ferrières, he reverted to the blueprint he had already used at Mentmore, with English towers and a great hall in the manner of a glass conservatory. At Ferrières, Paxton used a mélange of Anglo-French-Italian renaissance styles, with some mezzanines, colonnades and squared towers.
For the interior decoration, James de Rothschild commissioned Eugene Lami (1800–1890), renowned painter and watercolourist of high society, court and Parisian theatrical luminaries. Lami who did not have the technical competence of an architect, was restricted to the interior design and decoration of the castle, also giving advice on the purchase of works of art.
A stay in England heightened his sensitivity to the décor of great "country houses". After a trip to Venice accompanied by Baron James de Rothschild, Lami carried several projects, in particular for the great staircase the squared or compartmented ceiling of which resembled certain ceilings in The Doge's Palace in Venice.
The mix of European influences from–England, France, Italy and Holland-along with the eclectic collections from the 16th to the 19th centuries, gave Ferrières a unique aspect, very different from those other great contemporary residences in France at that time, where the stylistic practice was based on a reconstruction of a style or of a given period. The blue living room `le salon bleu' or Family living room where the cassoni were situated was a mixture of styles. It was inspired by the salon at Colworth House. The Italian Renaissance was recreated with 16th century furniture and this explains the presence in that collection of this pair of sumptuous cassoni.