Domenico, Sellaio and Antonio
The Morelli-Nerli Wedding Chests, 1472
Tempera on poplar with gilding
Samuel Courtauld Trust: Lee Bequest, 1947
The Nerli Chest, 1472, The Courtauld Gallery, London
In fifteenth-century Italy gilded and painted chests or forzieri (today generally called cassoni) were associated with marriage.
Usually made in pairs and originally intended to carry the bride's dowry to her new home, they were placed in the chamber (camera) of the bridegroom, who commissioned them. Such chests could be the most valuable items in this multipurpose space.
This is the only pair of cassoni that has survived with their accompanying spalliere (blackboards) and which can be connected with their original documentation. In September 1472 the Florentine patrician Lorenzo Morelli paid Zanobi di Domenico 21 florins for a pair of chests. Later that year, Jacopo del Sellaio and Biagio d'Antonio decorated them with painted histories and fine gold. Lorenzo purchased these cassoni to mark his marriage to Vaggia Nerli, and they prominently bear the arms of each family.
Presumably Lorenzo Morelli chose the painted stories adorning both chests. Drawn from Livy's history of ancient Rome, they were selected for their capacity to entertain and instruct the young couple, their household and their family. The chest with the Morelli arms depicts Camillus' expulsion of the Gauls from Rome, flanked by the virtues of Fortitude and Justice, while its spalliera shows Horatius Cocles's defence of Rome.
The Nerli spalliera portrays Macius Scaevola's patriotic devotion, and the chest the punishment of the treacherous Schoolmaster of Falerii, who offered his pupils as hostages to the Romans. This exemplary lesson was probably aimed at Vaggia Nerli, who was encouraged to care for her husband's children with dedication, in contrast to the Schoolmaster.
More about the Chests:
See them in the gallery (click and turn to the left)
Love and marriage in Renaissance Florence: the 2009 exhibition
VIDEO: The Courtauld Wedding Chests
Listen to Dr Jim Harris narrate the stories depicted on the chest panels
Explore the Courtauld's collection further