Love and Marriage in Renaissance Florence: The Courtauld Wedding Chests - The Courtauld Institute of Art

Love and Marriage in Renaissance Florence: The Courtauld Wedding Chests

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Love and Marriage in Renaissance Florence: The Courtauld Wedding Chests

12 February – 17 May 2009


…a sumptuous insight into Florentine society, culture and art during the Renaissance.
The Independent

…a surprisingly illuminating insight into life – and love – at the time.
London Paper

Chest and spalliera with the arms of Lorenzo Morelli and Vaggia Nerli (The Morelli Chest)

The Morelli Chest, 1472, The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London

A marriage in 15th-century Florence was not primarily about love or religion. Instead it was a dynastic alliance between powerful families.

To celebrate these marriages, pairs of great chests, lavishly decorated with precious metals and elaborate paintings, were commissioned. These items – now generally called cassoni – were often the most expensive of a whole suite of decorative objects commissioned to celebrate marriage alliances between powerful families. They were displayed in Florentine palaces and used to store precious items such as clothes and textiles.

The painted panels set into the wedding chests tell fascinating tales from ancient Greece, Rome and Palestine, as well as from Florentine literature and more recent history.  These beautifully told stories were intended to entertain as well as to instruct husband and wife, their servants, children and visitors.

This exhibition is the first in the UK to explore this important and neglected art form of Renaissance Florence.  The exhibition is focused around two of The Courtauld’s great treasures:  the pair of chests ordered in 1472 by the Florentine Lorenzo Morelli to celebrate his marriage with Vaggia Nerli. These are the only pair of cassoni to be still displayed with their painted backboards (spalliere).The unusual survival of both the chests and their commissioning documents enables a full examination of this remarkable commission.

The Courtauld cassoni are displayed alongside other superb examples of chests and panels. Discover the stories behind these chests and gain rich insights into Florentine art and life at the height of the city’s glory.

Exhibition Benefactors

  • Madeleine and Timothy Plaut

Exhibition Supporters

  • The Italian Cultural Institute
  • The Samuel H. Kress Foundation
  • Hugues and Emmanuelle Lepic
  • The Michael Marks Charitable Trust

Download exhibition leaflet

10 Things You May Want to Know About Cassoni

In an age of limited literacy, the finely painted and beguiling panels set into the wedding chests were visual storybooks with the power to transport their viewers into a new world, which imaginatively combined past and present. The tales they depicted were drawn from a large pool of familiar stories – the literature and history of ancient Greece and Rome, the Old Testament, and the poetry of Boccaccio and Petrarch.

These stories were intended to divert and give pleasure to the husband and wife and they often contained a strong moral message. The stories chosen for the chests emphasised ideal virtues such as bravery, constancy, obedience and prudence; models which members of a patrician family might strive to emulate.

Below are some podcasts from the exhibition, narrated by Jim Harris.

Listen to Vasari on Cassoni Painters


Listen to The Continence of Scipio


Listen to The Tale of Ginerva Bernabo and Ambrogiuolo


Listen to The Treacherous Schoolmaster of Falerii


Listen to Camillus Chases the Gauls from Rome

Design Drawings from Renaissance Italy

12 February –17 May 2009


This display that accompanied Love and Marriage in Renaissance Florence: The Courtauld Wedding Chests, presented rarely seen Italian 16th century design drawings for furniture, household objects and architectural ornaments.

Selected from The Courtauld’s extensive collection, these drawings illustrate the increasing use of classical motifs in High Renaissance designs. They also testify to the increasing professionalism of design in the High Renaissance, when the artist who was commissioned to design an object was often a different person from the craftsman who executed the design. This tradition of collaborative design has particular relevance in today’s artistic climate, where the line between functional object and work of art has become ever less marked.

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