All the items a bride would need
As one of the few cassoni (marriage chests) to survive intact from the fifteenth century, The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Cassone with the Conquest of Trebizond provides us with the opportunity to understand Renaissance Florentine social and political ideals and attitudes. Cassoni (also called forzieri in Florence) were expensive, lavishly decorated chests that accompanied a bride to her new marital home. These chests were given to the bride by her parents as their contribution to the wedding. Carrying precious textiles and goods such as expensive clothing, jewelry, and accessories, the chests contained many of the items the bride would need and use in her new home. The cassone was carried alongside the bride accompanied by her father and family through the streets of Florence, an important part of the ritual of marriage. It served to demonstrate the wealth of the family to the city’s citizens, displaying their power and influence.
Each of the main surfaces of the chest were decorated, often with painted horizontal panels depicting narratives (istorie) taken from such sources as Greek and Roman mythology, the Old Testament, and fourteenth-century literature (for example the work of Boccaccio and Petrarch were particularly popular). The Metropolitan’s Cassone stands out due to the choice of subject matter on the front panel, which depicts a contemporary historical event known as the “Conquest of Trebizond” (a region part of present-day Turkey), as well as for the two artists involved—Marco del Buono Giamberti and Apollonio di Giovanni di Tomaso.
Recent analysis of the cassone and particularly the costumes of those depicted in this panel revealed that it is in fact the Ottoman forces who are being vanquished. It is now believed that the artists deliberately conflated two historical events within the one scene: the fall of Trebizond in 1461 and a battle that took place in 1402, when the Ottomans were defeated at the hands of the famous Timurid ruler, Timur, and his troops at Ankara. By conflating these two events in this manner, the artists visualized the idea that the Ottomans were not invincible and although they had brought about the fall of the Byzantine Empire, they could be defeated once again. The panel therefore reinforced the belief that the Ottomans were no match for the might of the armies of mainland Europe.
Although an object destined for the private bedchambers of a newly-married couple, the Cassone with the Conquest of Trebizond brings together successfully the prescribed domestic duties and political concerns of fifteenth-century Florentines.