Here is my translation of Franco's new note complementing his one on birth trays. The original, "1450ca:
Firenze – Trionfi e cassoni nuziali", is at http://www.naibi.net/A/517-CASSONI-Z.pdf
In advance I want to say that this note was an eye-opener for me, merely by the questions it asks. That is, he says, "Besides looking for triumphs among the cassoni, why not also look for cassoni among the triumphs?" Busy looking for triumphs among cassoni, such a question never occurred to me.
On that subject, for people with access to JSTOR (and if you don't, you should, it's free), I recommend highly the article cited by Franco by Brucia Witthoft,"Marriage Rituals and Marriage Chests in Quattrocento Florence", Artibus et Historiae
, Vol. 3, No. 5 (1982), pp. 43-59.
In translating the word "istoriati" (as "historiated"), I used Jerzy Miziolek's "Cassoni istoriati with "Torello and Saladin": Observations on the Origins of a New Genre of Trecento Art in Florence", Studies in the History of Art,
Vol. 61, Symposium Papers XXXVIII: Italian Panel Painting of the Duecento and Trecento (2002), pp. 442-469. The word is defined in relation to the illustrations that occur at the initial letters of illuminated manuscripts that also relate in some way to the text that follows, illustrating some aspect of it. An historiated cassone would in some way be analogous to that. Whether it necessarily refers to a text (what text?), or maybe just an idea, or has to tell a story, I do not know. I wonder if tarot cards could be considered "historiated"? Added later:
On the meaning of "istoriati", Franco tells me:
The text or any writing is never involved. Istoriare means to decorate with historical motifs, illustrations of important events of the past. The meaning can in case be extended to any picture, not only of historical concern.
In what follows below, comments in brackets are mine.
C. 1450 - Trionfi and marriage chests
The object of this study is the chest, cassone
, of the Renaissance, a trunk or big forziere
[the 15th century word for "cassone"] containing the trousseau of the bride, transported in a public procession to the groom's house, where it remained as a useful piece of furniture beside the bed. Florentine cassoni had a remarkable expansion in Florence, especially in the second half of the fifteenth century; then in the nineteenth century they became highly sought-after items for collections, and specimens are found scattered in many museums and private collections, in various regions of Europe and America. The specialized literature on this topic is very rich: even the simplest among the catalogs of the various exhibitions devoted to these objects usually end with several pages of bibliographical references.
Our interest in the topic is, however, very limited, and only a small part of the specific literature will be used; our main attention indeed is directed mainly to the initial spread of triumphal motifs in the decoration of wedding chests. A similar study was previously dedicated to birth trays; here the objects are different, but the underlying issue for us remains the same as that at the basis of the previous study: "A different question, which however can be very relevant for our field of the history of playing cards is when triumphal images began to be used in the decoration of these objects." In short, also in the case of the cassoni it would be particularly useful to be able to go back to the time when triumphal motifs were adopted in the decoration and possibly find their rationales, all with the ultimate aim of better reconstructing the introduction of the triumphs among playing cards.
1. Decorations with triumphs
For birth trays of the fifteenth century, we saw that the appearance of triumphal motifs in Florence could be placed at the middle of the century, with a very large flowering that came virtually at once. In particular, it was found useful to reproduce the following quote from the monograph by Cecilia De Carli 2.
Towards the middle of the fifteenth century birth trays showed a change in the cultural situation that radically abandons the romantic idyll of virtus et voluptas present in the Gardens of Love, in Amorous hunts, in stories of the Ninfale Fiesolano or Teseida, whose main reference was Boccaccio. In its place we find Virgil, Homer, Petrarch, whose triumphs unfold the soul's progress from love to chastity, fame, plotting, in a sense, the new iconography of birth trays and chests, whose authors are the professionals lo Scheggia, brother of Masaccio, and Apollonio di Giovanni, with their respective workshops. (p. 29.)
It can be seen that at the end of this same quote on the birth trays, cassoni are named. Now we really have to check this correspondence between trays and chests. It so happens that in the catalog of a recent exhibition on Florentine cassoni 3 we meet a presentation that closely recalls what we had found for the trays.
The heart of the exhibition, however, is made up of the golden age of the painting of cassoni, that vast world which exploded the mid fifteenth century in Florence and also echoed in the words that Vasari dedicated to this production, recognizing its specificity and excellence, in the Life of Dello Delli. Petrarch took the place of Boccaccio, I Trionfi succeeded the Amorosa Visione, heroic themes of classical history and mythology widened the spectrum from Ovid moralized, effortlessly updating what had been the fashion all over Europe towards 1400. Through the domestic painting of the cassoni, myth and the classical heritage became shared history more and more familiar. (P. 20.)
We ought then to verify and extend this presentation, also trying to frame as precisely as possible its initial stages.
2 C. De Carli, I deschi da parto e la pittura del primo Rinascimento toscano
[Birth trays and the painting of the early Tuscan Renaissance]. Torino 1997.
3 A. De Marchi, L. Sbaraglio (ed), Le opere e i giorni
[Works and days]. Signa 2015.
3. Preliminary comments on the specific literature
As already mentioned, the literature on wedding cassoni is very extensive, but this may also be justified by the complication of the field under consideration. In particular, cassoni were generally produced in pairs, but these have rarely come down to us intact; as a rule we only have one of the front or side panels, and it remains impossible to reconstruct the entire scene of the original depiction. We must also take account of the intervention in this area of heavy restorations, complete renovations, even real counterfeits.
From the documents we hear of many works of this kind, but very few have been preserved; complicating things is the fact that as a rule these works are unsigned, and it is only thanks to the proposals of the various experts who come to widely shared agreement on attributions. Usually, the main task that the majority of historians set was therefore to discuss and re-discuss the attribution of the works described, and it seems that agreeing on these attributions has been and still remains rather difficult. In most cases it is objectively impossible to go back to the artist's hand in the decoration; at most it goes back to the style of the master in whose workshop the cassone was produced, perhaps with the help of many students of a variety of experience. Related discussions multiply and do not proceed in a linear fashion, but with frequent changes of mind and at least partial reworking of proposals already deemed outdated; if one intended to reconstruct in order of originality, in a complete and correct manner, all the proposals recurrently advanced over time, the task would take years of careful study. Even in recent times, thanks to increased attention paid to artistic products of the minor arts, scholars in the field present much laborious activiy, although only infrequently are new elements presented. Fortunately there are two favorable situations that allow a rapid advancement of our research.
The first advantageous situation arises ... from ignorance, that is, by the fact that the professional world of art historians can be seen from the outside, without the obligations of gratitude towards teachers or consideration towards colleagues or academic procedures; we can be permitted, as amateurs, to advance without restrictions, choosing
the contributions that have been most useful for our purpose, without accompanying them with a critical analysis of the originality of the contributions themselves, let alone the many not considered. (It must on the other hand be recognized that this undoubted "advantage" is accompanied by the drawback that we will only be able to reflect on work already second hand, without adding here to the purpose anything not already known.)
The second factor that simplifies our study is the limitation to triumphal motifs present in the decoration of cassoni, with the added temporal confinement to an era - towards the end of the first half of the fifteenth century - which for many cassoni is revealed as very early, so as to leave only a limited number available for discussion. In virtually all the exhibition catalogs on this issue and all the monographs on cassoni can be found some specimens with triumphal motifs in their decoration; however, many of these cassoni and related discussions can be neglected because they are too late to be of help (and this happens quite often), or because the author of the description does not dwell enough on our specific theme.
4. Observations from the publications on trionfi
Before entering into a discussion of the contributions utilized by the literature on cassoni, we should recall another way of accessing potentially useful literature, one way for some alternative ways: instead of looking for triumphs among the cassoni, why not look for cassoni among the triumphs? In fact, if you take into consideration the most complete works dedicated to triumphs, it is inevitable that we will also meet "our" cassoni. A search has therefore been made also in this direction.
So for example we already meet various chests discussed in a pioneering book on the triumphs 4; However, for our purposes, the treatment of cassoni is revealed in that case too dispersed among the various works of art considered; in addition, the same structuring of the triumphs as pertain to the military genre, classical or Christian imitation, does not appear quite suitable for us. Among other things, the author also points out (p. 84) that one cannot draw a dividing line between
4 W. Weisbach, Trionfi.
allegorical and mythological triumphs (Zwischen den allegorischen und den lässt sich keine mythologischen Triumphs scharfe Trennungslinie ziehen), so that all the triumphs of our interest end up being included in one group. A much more extensive discussion is encountered in a noted large book of Giovanni Carandente 5 in which many cassoni areare presented and also discussed. The examples are reported with attributions that in most cases appear outdated today, and without following the chronological order that would help; but what is rare is primarily a specific discussion limited to the triumphs in cassoni and their first diffusion, despite the fact the the findings are recalled that led to the recognition of the specific activity of the workshop of Matteo [Marco?] Il Buono and Apollonio di Giovanni.
Something of interest can be found in a recent book, much easier to utilize, by Zaho 6. The author reasonably begins her discussion with the triumphs of the classical era, passes rapidly to developments related to humanism and directs the main part of her work to the new use of triumphs as a personal celebration on the part of some famous lords of the Renaissance: Alfonso of Aragon, Sigismondo Malatesta (whom we also know well in our field of the triumphs among playing cards), Federico da Montefeltro, Battista Sforza, and Borso d'Este.
By the middle of the fifteenth century, the idea of the truimph began to take on more complex and enigmatic overtones. The strict adherence to Petrarch’s literary vision gave way to more personal and private interpretations of the idea of triumph. It came to be used as a commentary on the lives and events of private individuals. The triumphal motif was no longer viewed as a simple decorative theme, but instead became a vehicle by which an artist or patron could construct a personal image. Moreover, this ability to manipulate and individualize the classically inspired Christian allegory of the Triumph became the impetus for Italian Renaissance rulers to appropriate and promote it for their own use. (p. 45.)
This particular transformation of triumphs is suggested by the middle of the fifteenth century, but any developments go beyond the period of our interest. We hope for more accurate and detailed information from the literature devoted to the cassoni themselves.
5 G. Carandente, I trionfi nel primo Rinascimento
. Torino 1963.
6 M. A. Zaho, Imago triumphalis: the function and significance of triumphal imagery for Italian Renaissance rulers
. New York etc. 2004.
5. First observations on the studies published on cassoni
The following are various opinions of the experts on the subject of our interest. As mentioned above, it will not be a systematic analysis, and the criterion adopted is simply to rely on the works from which the information was obtained (in fact, the sources consulted were more numerous than those which are mentioned here explicitly). A good starting point for the study of cassoni is usually considered the extensive work of Paul Schubring, published in Leipzig in 1915 and a revised edition in 1923 7. In fact, in the second edition, there is a three-page short chapter (pp. 58- 60) dedicated to triumphs, but the obtainable information is not sufficient for us. The author's assertion that he devoted just those few pages to the topic may appear strange, since precisely on the theme of triumphs much had already been written in the past (today on triumphs we could overlook all of them). However Schubring signals a difference among triumphal motifs with heroes or of Petrarchan derivation in pictorial representations: "In der Malerei spiegelten sich diese Aufzüge nach zwei Seiten: in den Triumphs Petrarcas und in den der Heroen Triumphs". ["In painting, these motifs were reflected in two directions: in the Triumphs of Petrarch and in the triumphs of heroes"]. The author also lists a series of themes, seen as possible groupings of the various characters depicted in the triumphs: the Old Testament; gods; Roman history; Greek history; contemporary history.
A large study devoted specifically to cassoni appears much more useful to us: the thesis of Paul Watson, completed at Yale University in 1970 8. Going back in time by nearly half a century, we find ourselves, among other statements, many similar to those which are met in recent catalogs and monographs.
Most of the subjects popular during the first decades of the fifteenth century disappeared abruptly around 1450. There were no Gardens of Love, nor any of its variants, no Allegorical Chases, and no amatory romances of the type of Theseida and the Ninfale Fiesolano. No tales from the Decameron survived, with one significant exception. Boccaccio was replaced by Vergil and Homer, and by Petrarch, whose Triumphs limning the progress of the soul from love
7 P. Schubring, Cassoni (Zweite Auflage)
. Leipzig 1923.
8 P. F. Watson, Virtus and voluptas in cassone painting
. Phil. Diss. Yale University, New Haven 1970.
to chastity to fame, were almost a summary of the iconographic history of cassone painting. (p. 225.)
Watson also goes into detail and studies the writings of the humanists in relation to marriage and married life. He considers rightly Apollonio di Giovanni as the main protagonist (to which we would willingly add today Scheggia).
The author also discusses a particular observaton, which also is found in other works on the subject: initially the decoration of the chests was based on the separation of the long rectangle of the front panel into several sectors more comparable to a square shape; only in a second time was it preferred to use the whole, all the available long panel, connected with the possibility of depicting more extensive and complex scenes. This transformation occurred shortly before that of the subjects preferred, more of our interest.
As for this appearance of scenes the full length of the panel, Andrea De Marchi noted two artists who were responsible respectively for a first introduction (Giovanni Toscani) and a subsequent attainment of its full value (Scheggia), about twenty years after 9.
It will then be a painter as exquisite and sparkling as Giovanni di Francesco Toscani, who generally dedicated his best energies, to codify in the third decade a type where the splitting of the narrative expands and unifies, laying the solid foundation for what will be an asset of Florentine stained cassoni. (p. 17.)
It is only, however, with lo Scheggia that the exquisitely roaming system of Tasconi’s cassoni is governed by a tighter setting, measured by the lances of shadow projected to the ground, by the colorful interlocking of expertly foreshortened architectures of scales varying in proportion to the figures. (P. 22.)
We are more interested in the almost simultaneous change in the subjects, with the introduction of triumphal ones in particular. As responsible for the first indication of the transformation of the subjects and style at the mid-century, Watson in the aforementioned thesis refers in a note on Schubring.
The shift in subject matter and style was first noticed by Schubring, 106, who called the mid-century the “heroic” age of painting, as distinct from the
9 A. De Marchi, Ref, of note 3.
romantic one immediately preceding it. (p. 496.)
A brief summary of the second edition of the pioneering work of Schubring on cassoni, already mentioned, was not sufficient to detect an observation of that kind. With the help of Watson’s notes we can see what actually there at p. 160 of Schubring’s book of 1923: The reference, rather compact,is included above all with a cassone of the Battle of Anghiari, so that the new style displayed in fact dates back to the middle of the century; All the same, the importance of that change does not appear stressed enough.
However, already in 1970 what is found is not only the observation of the change but also the study of the moral treatises of the humanists and the connection of the culture in that environment with the change of cassone style, This seems already a sufficiently distant starting point for the numerous repetitions of those same concepts that we find in subsequent studies. In short, the phenomenon of the change in style, which had been found in relation to the birth trays at the middle of the fifteenth century, is actually considered less valid for cassoni, and of this the experts have been aware for decades. An important contribution to the study of the cassoni is in the book by Ellen Callmann, Apollonio di Giovanni
10. The theme of triumphs, after an already interesting presentation, is treated in detail, as copied below.
Triumphs became an important manifestation in Renaissance art. The humanists, reviving an interest in ancient authors, acquainted their contemporaries with the Roman practices and themselves wrote extensively on Roman history and customs. This new interest was not purely a literary one. A few contemporary heroes were actually given ‘triumphs’, and public pageants on occasion included re-creations of Roman triumphs. These lavish spectacles had an important impact on art and many artists contributed designs for them. By the fifties this revival, both in literature and in performance, was in full swing but as yet it had not penetrated the visual arts to any great extent. Secular art was still severely limited, the first extensive undertaking in this area being the decoration of the Palazzo Medici in the late fifties, so that cassoni were quite naturally in the vanguard of the movement. (p. 45.)
10 E. Callmann, Apollonio di Giovanni
. Oxford 1974.
Unfortunately, the extensive discussion thus introduced for us loses much of its interest, in particular addressing the flowering of the subject after the middle of the century.
Comments more or less similar on the transition in preferred themes centered on the middle of the century (but in some cases at a somewhat earlier date) are found in several other studies. A rather simplified vision is met in a nice book about cassoni that also discusses triumphs in a chapter that is entirely devoted to the recurring themes in decoration 11. The description appears schematized in a very simple way: the predominance of themes chosen by brides until the middle of the century and by the grooms after.
'l'riionfi are indeed a common cassone subject. These processions were an aristocratic way of marking valour, often modelled on ancient Roman precedents, as a reminder to participants that Renaissance Italy was the heir to the glories of Rome. If a wedding on a cassone might be a suitable theme for a bride-to-be, then a display of masculine bravery or virtù would please the future groom. (p. 101.)
By the middle of the quattrocento, voluptas and virtù often lived together on cassoni, but by the last half of the century virtù came to be seen as the forerunner quality. The wav to understand virtù, a mixture of nobility and courage, was not through one single image of beautiful love, but through the recreation of dramatic personal exploits. The complicated sources for cassoni ideas can be further simplified. During the first half of the century cassoni idealised women; the second half turned men into heroes. Static love yielded to dynamic action. Passive became active, female voluptas was extinguished by male virtù. (pp. 97-98.)
The schema shown corresponds to several earlier proposals, which are in agreement in outline but differ in aspects not entirely secondary, such as the motivation or the precise dates associated with the signaled transition.
6. Hypothetical connections
With the help of the literature already utilized and other works that will be referred to below, we outline some basic elements for discussion. As already are seen for birth trays, starting in the
11 G. Hughes, Renaissance cassoni
. Polegate and London 1997.
mid-fifteenth century, also for cassoni there was a significant increase in their diffusion in general, and particularly those decorated with triumphal motifs, with changes in style and prevalent motifs. Researching possible motivations, different suggestions can be found, summarized below.
A first possibility concerns the connection of the triumphant decoration of the cassone with some contemporary military victory. An association of this kind has been suggested for example for the appearance of the triumphs of the cards soon after the Battle of Anghiari (a discussion about this can be read on the Internet in the Tarot History Forum with contributions especially by Phaeded). If one were to accept such a proposal, one would conclude that the triumphs commissioned by Giusto Giusti were not only the first documented today but were in fact absolutely among the first to be made, only a few months after the battle. Thinking of the famous triptych by Paolo Uccello, kept in beautiful exhibition in the room of Lorenzo de' Medici, it would be natural to think rather of the Battle of San Romano of 1432.
One must also take account of an entirely different possibility, virtually to the contrary, that at first glance would seem absurd: the association of triumphal motifs not with a major victory, but even with a military defeat. In Florence the Zagonara defeat of 1424 indeed aroused a great impression, which put in jeopardy the independence of the city and forced the ruling classes to urgently find new forms of legitimacy. If we have no confirmation of actual triumphs, which immediately would appear at the least incongruous, we find, however, something comparable in the rapid growth of the city's festivities, reported by Paola Ventrone 12.
The same desire for self-promotion and legitimization, underlying the political and cultural context described above, also formed the underlying motivation for the establishment of new parties and for the restructuring of the patronal celebration of St. John. The appearance, or enhancement, of these festivals is placed, significantly, in the years around the defeat of Zagonara of 28 July 1424. In this crucial fight the Florentine army, led by the commanding general Carlo Malatesta, had been beaten by that of Philippo
12 P. Ventrone, Teatro civile e sacra rappresentazione a Firenze nel Rinascimento
[Civil theatre and sacred representation in Florence in the Renaissance]. Florence 2016.
Maria Visconti, marking a major defeat for the foreign policy of the Albizzo faction, which had applied to the population significant economic efforts, making, as well, more urgent the need for the legitimazation of the ruling social class [faction?]. (P. 46.)
On the other hand, if the depiction of a military triumph is not tied to the contemporary or recent past, but instead corresponds to events of classical antiquity, as often occurs, it becomes difficult to distinguish this case from the following, for related reasons.
A second possibility is related to the search to enhance the Roman roots of the foundation of Florence. The immediate connection is Laudatio Florentinae Urbis
, composed around 1403 by Leonardo Bruni, and other works, even more purely historical linked to it. It essentially gives value to the foundation of Florence by the "Roman Republic", at that time considered the most valid in the Roman world, when it was already firmly and validly constituted but before its values dissolved in the empire..
In the vision of Coluccio Salutati and the early humanists around him, these roots in Romanity then makes Florence appear as the most worthy heir of ancient Rome, similarly independent, since the city government could avoid too oppressive control by both the emperor that the pope. The study of the Latin classics was spreading more and more, and one could already speak of a humanism at the city level, although still at a preliminary stage. In short, the triumphs in the decorations bring to daily view, in the bedroom itself, episodes known from antiquity, capable of inciting to deeds of valor and merit to recognize the worthy citizens of Florence as the heirs of Rome.
In the first case considered above, no connection with a marriage is seen; in the second case, one can only think to place suitable scenes that will remain subjects of the family's attention for decades, but which will continue to have little in common with their origin, dating back to a marriage; something more closely related would be helpful for us. Also for playing cards, it has often been pointed
out that a special deck of cards coincides with the celebration of a particular marriage. I have serious doubts about how extendive this custom could really have been (which would be ruled out for the production of ordinary playing cards), but if we switch from playing cards to wedding chests, a connection with marriage immediately becomes inescapable.
There can then be reported a circumstance that binds triumphal motifs to marriage ceremonies. The cassone was the main subject of the public procession that occurred between the bride’s house of origin and the family in which she was entering, and could therefore enhance the power and wealth of the families involved. Here is how the situation is described by Alessandra Malquoril 13.
The production of historiated wedding chests in fifteenth century Florence had as its primary purpose, in the city's social arrangement, of making visible and palpable the prestige of those who had commissioned them. When the cassoni paraded following the wedding procession in the streets of the city, aristocrats, powerful bourgeois and wealthy merchants made explicit to their fellow citizens the economic and political power that their family was able to exercise. This sumptuary production also allowed, with great "entrampement of the eye", to give space to the Florentine taste and that interest for the erudite themes raging at the time - because they were tied to the fortune of the classics that since the beginning of the century were gradually being discovered, copied and translated by the early humanists - or themes inspired by the poetry and prose of the time. (p. 79.)
In the literature it is found that the commissioning of cassoni was entrusted to the parents of either the bride or the groom. It seems that both cases have actually occurred, but with a kind of change in fashion rather limited in time (even just before the middle of the fifteenth century), with the commissioning passing from the father of the bride to that of the groom. This passage in commissining would also prompt a change in subject and style: now it was the groom, in person or through his family, to make his own tastes prevail, for heroism and battles with settings and spirit far more manly than before.
The traditional procession to the house of the groom had pecisely the character of a triumphal procession; so, this "triumph of marriage"
13 C. Paolini, D. Parenti, L. Sebregondi (eds.), Virtù d'amore: pittura nuziale nel Quattrocento fiorentino
[Virtue of Love: Wedding painting in fifteenth century Florence]. Florence 2010.
even gave the title to an exhibition and the related catalogue 14. In the corresponding comment, it is stressed that this triumphal character of the procession had already been suggested by Witthöft, with particular reference to the groom and his family.
Much like Weisbach, Brucia Witthoft connects the revival of triumph imagery to Renaissance wedding processions. But in her view, the humanist-inspired triumph relates primarily to the groom. “The wedding procession is thus a ‘triumph’ in two senses. The groom’s triumph is that of a war-party, who succeeded in carrying off a bride and her possessions. The family’s triumph is the display of their wealth and power... the celebration of the alliance as a source of political or economic power.” (p. 10.)
It is also proposed to combine this motivation for the subjects of the decoration of cassoni with previous humanistic teaching. The same Witthöft 15 expresses this as follows.
If, as we have seen, wedding chests are supplied by the groom and are carried in his triumphal wedding procession, they might be expected to reflect his education and to express his view of the ceremony. This is indeed the case in choosing subjects from the Aeneid or from Roman military history and triumphs, the purchaser had clear sanction in humanist writings. The sudden appearance of classical subjects around 1430 can, in fact, be partly explained by these circumstances. For it is about that time that the first generation of men who were educated according to humanist precepts reached marriageable age. (p. 53.)
Marriage chests became classical in inspiration because they were chosen by men whose humanist education stressed ancient writings as moral guides. They often illustrated battles and triumphs because they were carried in a quasi-military triumphal wedding procession. (p. 54.)
It may be noted here that the date for the change of themes is brought forward [in English, we would say "moved back"] to 1430, but she speaks of classical motifs generally more than those of triumphs in particular.
14 C. L. Baskins, The triumph of marriage
. Boston 2008.
15 B. Witthoft, Artibus et historiae
, 3 (1982) 5, 43-59.
Again with reference to weddings, we can ask whether there are for the cassoni some hypotheses that can interpret the observation of a rather abrupt appearance of triumphal motifs in their decoration. Well, not only does such a situation exist, but it is precisely the same as that already met for birth trays. The observation of de Carli,repeated above, had in fact been advanced not only for birth trays but also, explicitly, for cassoni. It may be worth recalling the remarks at the basis of that interpretation.
Why do the triumphs appear? In the specific case of weddings, because the atmosphere has become more severe and the humanists privileged a Petrarchan vision in which love triumphs, but in turn must be overcome by more controlled attitudes that lead to praise not the immediate pleasure of the senses but rather moderation in men, modesty in women, seriousness in all. We are now fully in phase with the marriage ceremony; However, the atmosphere remains the same as already indicated for the second case: it is again the usual environment of the first humanists that dictates the trend. Ovid and Boccaccio go out of fashion, Petrarch becomes the new basis, and his Triumphs become increasingly important.
Various motivations are taken into consideration, which, however, at least in part lend themselves to be combined. In particular, it seems that the cultural background of the atmosphere begun by the early humanists is always more or less present. Eventually the problem would be to identify who is understood as early humanists and at what precise moment in history should the reference be made in particular, with a clearer definition of what we find in the specified literature.
7. Chronological order and playing cards
In the same book quoted above, Cristelle Baskins reports (p. 10) as the first examples of the introduction of triumphal motifs their appearance in the illuminated manuscripts of Il Trionfi
and birth trays, and a little later in birth trays by lo Scheggia; Now, whether one accepts that designation of priority or not, we need also to enter the cassoni into the sequence. We saw that
there exist both interpretations that link the introduction of triumphal motifs in their decorations to weddings, and those that link them to other things more generally in the cultural environment.
It is quite evident that between the two types of interpretation there may exist a temporal dependence; if the triumphal motifs appeared in a dozen different Florentine products and the aim is to reconstruct the passage from one to another, it is clear that priority in innovation must be given to objects, or one object, in which the triumphal motifs also found a direct link, as indeed is traceable in the case under examination of cassoni.
Some possible interpretations have been discussed for the appearance in the cassone of those images, which we are interested to link to the news of a deck of the "naibi a trionfi” playing cards as a product documented in Florence already in 1440. We do not know when "triumphal" cards first could have entered into the deck, but we know that already the year 1440c comes too early for their appearance of the triumphs in birth trays, and also, as we have seen here, of wedding chests.
If the triumphs as playing cards were created already with the 22 "standard" superior cards that we know from subsequent tarot decks, we do not find a guide in the literature, or a corresponding series of images, in the artistic production of the time. But if we imagine that the first additions of triumphal cards, whatever their number, represent triumphs, classical or Petrarchan, then the atmosphere is the same as that of the first humanists, among whom such new ideas, or new interpretations of old ideas, were current at the time. It remains to be explained why the new trend appears first in playing cards, as was found in birth trays and now also we can confirm for cassoni.
8. Possible precursors
From what has been observed so far it would seem useful to bring forward [I think Franco means what in English would be called "move back"] the dates reported for the appearance of triumphal motifs in cassoni. It being understood that the extraordinary flowering of the theme came from the middle of the fifteenth century, is it possible to trace preceding examples? To answer, we must distinguish many different cases. One case is research that advances [moves back?] the dates by a few years, to the fifth decade
of the century. We can then consider a "gain" [loss?] of a couple of years for Scheggio and a little more for Apollonio di Giovanni (with the records in the books of his shop starting in 1446). Another opportunity is perhaps offered by cassoni decorated by Pesellino before 1450, even if they appear as independent of “standard” production and characterized by greater originality and superior quality.
The better possibility is encountered if we turn to the revisitations of classical motifs, not necessarily and not only of triumphal type. The obvious connection is with the first humanists, but when trying to trace the origin of humanism it will end with the return to the full fourteenth century, reaching personages the caliber of Boccaccio and especiallyPetrarch. Regarding I Trionfi,
it has been reported several times and discussed by various historians that there was a considerable time lag between the literary tradition and the associated pictorial one.
It seems, however, possible to reduce the time lag indicated if we take a look at some cassoni, even fourteenth century ones, which can be connected with the literary activities of Coluccio Salutati and the circle of humanists who first gravitated around him. Early connections of this kind have been suggested in particular by Jerzy Miziolek 16.
All the illustrations are part of the official art commissioned for public buildings. In the present study we have shown that at the end of the fourteenth century also cassoni or forzieri, art objects created for the needs of private individuals, contained interesting subjects, both mythological and drawn from ancient history. These oldest historiated forzieri, so far little studied (or even published), usually dated after 1430, if not later, depicting stories from Livy, Ovid, Statius, Hyginus, Valerius Maximus or their medieval commentators and popularizers, first of all fourteenth century, today offer the opportunity to understand even better the taste for antiquity in Florence during the chancellorship of Salutati (1375-1406). We have examined twenty of these paintings that have come down to our times, but we can be virtually certain that the number was actually much larger. (P. 115.)
In the case of all the works discussed in this book we have in fact to do with the classical literature depicted, so we are confronted witha real example of the influence not only of the direct or indirect teaching of Salutati and his circle on works art created for private citizens but also in some
16 J. Miziolek, Soggetti classici sui cassoni fiorentini alla vigilia del rinascimento
[Classical subjects on Florentine chests at the eve of the Renaissance]. Warszawa 1996.
way we have proof of the triumph of the taste for the ancient already in the eighties and nineties of the fourteenth century. So there is a certain parallelism between the literary lines of the humanists and the production of cassoni or forzieri thirty or forty years earlier than was previously thought. So fourteenth-century humanism is joined also by way of literature painted in forms still medieval. (P. 120.)
As already clearly stated in the title of the book, here we are no longer, as in other cases, in the early Renaissance; Here we have backed away until its ...eve. However it is not clear to what extent the early reminder of the classical tradition, here documented and discussed by Miziolek, could also involve "our" triumphs.
Art historians have devoted numerous studies to wedding chests of Renaissance Florentine production. Many of these studies have focused on the problems of reconstruction and attribution of the specimens, often preserved only in part. Of cassoni decorations, much information has been obtained, especially on clothing sumptuous and ordinary, public and private buildings, the typical habits of social and family life of the time. The point of our interest is very secondary, limited to the appearance of the triumphal motifs in their decoration. It is not easy to find the first examples of that trend that would have had widespread diffision only after the mid-fifteenth century.
Compared to other craft products in which decoration with triumphal motifs flourish, for cassoni the situation is different: in this case in fact the connection with weddings is certain and evident. There are then logical connections which would suggest that precisely in wedding chests the first triumphal motifs could appear, which would then also be transferred to various objects. For us, who are preferentially interested in the appearance of triumphs among the playing cards, the situation, however, presents itself, instead, in a hardly understandable manner, as reversed: according to what we know today about the spread of these Florentine styles the triumphs seem to have entered the playing cards before and not after.
Franco Pratesi – 31.08.2016.