Florence, 16th Century
Museum Di San Marco and National Museum
Carved wood details of both pieces.
As brilliant as it was, Renaissance architecture did not stand alone to create an entire design. Furniture played an important role in providing an organized, symmetry look to the interiors. Furniture used in a proper scale and proportion was ideally suited to these frequently lavish interiors. The practical uses of sideboards, wardrobes and armoires were used to offset the other architectural features of the rooms. These craftsmen used a variety of coloured woods with painting and gilding in addition to inlays of “ivory, mother-of-pearl and tortoiseshell, with a mosaic of coloured stones (pietra dura)…”1
An Italian furniture innovation was the cassoni. The cassoni or chest was typically used as a vessel for the bride’s family to transport gifts for the bride and groom to their new home. The significance of the cassoni was used to exhibit the hopefully excessive bounty the bride’s family could bestow on the married couple. Not surprisingly, “brides and artists competed for the most sumptuous cassone . . . to carry her linens and trousseau to her new home.”2 Cassoni were constructed so they could stand alone, not requiring a stand, table or brace. These pieces were often created in pairs (one for the bride and one for the groom) and were highly ornamented with battle scenes or ancient mythology. Regularly carved of oak, poplar and walnut with intarsia or mosaics made of wood, cassoni were known for their gilded surfaces and painted panels.
These highly sought after pieces, were no longer assembled by carpenters and joiners, but rather by highly skilled artists including Sandro Botticelli, Paolo Uccello and Donatello who became known for their decorative and intricate designs. Their interpretations were a unique blend of traditional (battles, legends and classical history) and contemporary subject matter. The importance of the cassoni in the Renaissance was its significance as part of a business transaction between families rather than about love.
Another fitting that benefitted from the Renaissance artist was the fireplace. All kinds of generous effects were bestowed on this everlasting and integral piece. As showpieces requiring emphasis, the mantel and hearth were adorned with plastering effects, wood carving appliqués and marble accents. The often heavy, façade gave the fireplace a transformed presence that was elevated to new decorative heights.
Smaller pieces of art that were created and embellished during the Renaissance was a revival of using bronze in creating figurines, candlesticks, lamps and sconces. Mirrors were situated to further provide the illusion of space in a room while the techniques of inlaid marble and stonework were extended to opulent vases, candelabras , wreaths and swags. Imitation became a practice by using marble and stucco to emulate brocaded fabrics and painted wood to appear like colourful marble. All of these effects were combined to create variable and stunning original interiors.
While the Renaissance started in Italy, the movement eventually reached other areas of Europe including France, England, Austria and Spain. Although, their specific contributions were considerable and important, the most engaging attribute of the Renaissance is to recognize the initial influence of the Romans of antiquity. Through them, “. . . the inherited instinct for inseparably blending the beautiful with the useful again shone forth under the impetus of renewed creative vigour . . .”3.
Picture retrieved from:
Eberlein, Harold Donaldson, Interior Fireplaces & Furniture of the Italian Renaissance, The Architectural Book Publishing Co., 1916, Page 58.
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McNutt, The Italian Renaissance Cassone, A Microcosm of Style or Thinking Outside the Box, Page 2
Eberlein, Harold Donaldson, Interior Fireplaces & Furniture of the Italian Renaissance, The Architectural Book Publishing Co., 1916, Page vii.