Exhibition Archive


Love and marriage in renaissance florence: The courtauld wedding chests

12 February – 17 May 2009

Wedding Scene on Courtauld Wedding Chest

Panel depicting a wedding chestWedding Scene on Wedding Chest Panel


“… a sumptuous insight into Florentine society, culture and art during the Renaissance.”

The Independent, 7 February 2009


 “… a surprisingly illuminating insight into life – and love – at the time.”

London Paper, 10 February 2009

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.


A special event series accompanies this exhibition. Click here for further information.


Watch three short films about the exhibition

Listen to five podcasts telling some of the stories depicted on the wedding chests

To download 10 Things You May Want to Know About Cassoni please click below
pdf document 10 Things You May Want to Know About Cassoni

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


Special Display:


Design Drawings from High Renaissance Italy

12 February –17 May 2009


Renaissance design drawing

This display presents 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.