In his seminal article on pastiglia caskets, Patrick M. de Winter catalogued 115 examples of which only 10 caskets measured over 20cm in height and depth. The present exceptionally large casket adds another very fine version to this elite group.
De Winter identifies seven workshops with distinctive styles of handling the applied pastiglia elements. The present casket may be associated with either the Workshop of the Main Berlin Casket or, more probably, the Workshop of the Cleveland Casket. Both of these workshops are credited with some of the most elaborate and refined productions of this rare genre. Both workshops use the truncated pyramid-shaped lid identical to that on the present casket. The separation of the narrative scene into three episodes on the front and back, and two episodes on the sides is shared with the Berlin Casket. However, there is a greater affinity with the Cleveland Casket in the open distribution of the figures within the scenes, lacking the density of decoration that identifies the Workshop of the Main Berlin Casket. In addition the palmette reliefs, here with the original alternating red and green colouring, and the punched gilding, which is the most elaborate type known, are both closely comparable with the Workshop of the Cleveland Casket.
Pastiglia caskets were used to contain small semi-precious and 'studiolo' objects, such as seals and coins. The depiction of many scenes from famous classical romantic myths suggests that they were used as engagement gifts. Above all they express the Renaissance fascination with all things Antique.
The pastiglia decoration on these caskets is moulded into forms which are then glued to the surface. The applied forms are made of 87% white lead mixed with sulphate and a binder. It is believed that the small moulds used to make the individual parts were made of metal rather than wood or clay. The exterior wood surface, usually alder, is prepared with a thin layer of gesso which is then punched to varying degrees of elaboration before the addition of red bole and gold leaf. This was followed by the application of the figures and decoration.
P. M. de Winter, 'A little-known creation of Renaissance Decorative Arts: The white lead Pastiglia Box', Saggi e Memorie di storia dell'arte, 14, 1984, pp. 9-131; Pastiglia Boxes: Hidden Treasures of the Italian Renaissance from the Collections of Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, Rome, exh.cat. Lowe Art Museum, Miami, 2002; M. Ajmar-Wollheim and F. Dennis (eds.), At Home in Renaissance Italy, London, 2006, p.108, cat. 153
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