An impressive panel from a 15th century Italian marriage chest, or cassone, will be unveiled by Moretti Fine Art at the Biennale des Antiquaires (Stand N15) which takes place at the Grand Palais, Paris, from Friday 14 to Sunday 23 September 2012. The panel is painted with a battle scene and recent cleaning has revealed its extraordinary quality, suggesting that the cassone was made for a nobleman of considerable standing and further study is currently being undertaken into its early history.
The panel has a notable provenance having presumably been acquired by Alexander, Lord Lindsay, later 25th Earl of Crawford and 8th of Balcarres (1812-1880). It then passed to his son and heir, James, and then to David, 27th Earl of Crawford and 10th of Balcarres who sold it at a London auction house in 1946 as a complete cassone, the front panel described as ‘classical battle scene in the manner of the Master of the Cassone’. It was then in the collection of Sir Thomas Merton, F.R.S. (1888-1969), the English scientist, inventor and art connoisseur and collector until sold again at in 1979 as by the Master of the Anghiari Battle.
Marriage in Renaissance Italy involved huge expenditure both by the groom and the bride’s family. A patrician husband would buy clothes, jewels and textiles for his new wife and would often refurnish his suite of rooms in the family palazzo. Among the most significant items commissioned at the time of marriage were pairs of richly decorated chests. These large painted and gilded chests, generally called cassoni, were used to store precious items such as clothes. They were also among the most magnificent and costly items of furniture found in Florentine palaces as illustrated by this splendid example.
Amongst the other fine Italian Old Master paintings to be exhibited by Moretti will be Half-length figure of a bravo by Pietro della Vecchia, one of the most intriguing artistic personalities of 17th century Italy. Born either in Vicenza or in Venice where he spent his entire career, he produced an immense oeuvre of works mainly inspired by the styles of 16th-century masters such as Giorgione, Titian, Palma Vecchio and Pordenone. He was also engaged in the art trade and operated from time to time as a faker of ancient masters. The work to be exhibited is a prime example of one of Vecchia’s most successful inventions, depicting a flamboyant warrior in the act of drawing his sword. The shining armour, the plumed hat, and the menacing look of this bravo is a masterful adaptation of a prototype once believed to be by Giorgione but now unanimously given to the young Titian, the famous Il Bravo, now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.
The Feast of Herod by Angelo and Bartolomeo degli Erri depicts Herod with two dignitaries seated at one table and his wife Herodias between two ladies at another. Tapestries hang on the walls behind them. Salome, daughter of Herodias, kneels before Herod proffering the dish with the head of John the Baptist which she won as a reward for her dancing. While other diners and Herod react in horror, only Herodias remains calm as she explains the reason for her daughter’s action. On the left of the panel liveried attendants are busy preparing food before a window opening on to a hilly landscape.
The panel is one of a series dedicated to the life of Saint John the Baptist, another of which depicting the Baptism of Christ was in the Diena Collection in Modena and then in the Kleinberger Collection of Paris in 1914 but its current whereabouts are unknown. These panels were the subject of scholarly debate in the late 19th and early 20th centuries between some of the greatest scholars of the day, including Adolfo Venturini, Bernard Berenson and Roberto Longhi. It was unanimously concluded that this panel is by the Erri brothers and was originally part of an altarpiece in Modena.