I swear, this is the last one!
By 1509 some of these cassone have gotten quite intricate. This example of a gilded goffano made for the wedding of Francesco Maria I, Duke of Urbino, to Leonora Ippolita Gonzaga is damned impressive. Under the gilding isn’t carving, but molded gesso built up in layers over the substrate of Popple (Cottonwood). The low portions of the applied castings are painted blue to provide that dazzling relief of light and shadow. But that’s not important right now.
We can see again in this case that the front is curved to match a circle contour, and the back panel is nailed on alike… as in all our other examples of boarded chests. This one does have the added weirdness of being curved not only along the front but also the sides curve on a similar radius (as visible in the top picture). Surely this must be our big topic for the post.
No. And don’t call me Shirley.
For the special attention found from this chest, we need to look at the plinth — the foot.
Having a decorative embellishment across the entire length is pretty rare for boarded chests. The existence of the legs is usually intended to provide some protection from floor or ground moisture while raising the “business part” of the chest up towards those trying to rummage about in it. We’ve looked at a good variety of simple decoration on all manner of examples to date, but here’s the first time we see a plinth that goes around the three visible faces of the chest (front and two sides) and appears to be made up of several moulding profiles.
While we don’t seem to have many extant examples of moulding planes from this era, and the common thought was that these complex profiles would have been cut with some kind of moulding iron, when we look at the back of this chest we discover a secret to unbending the difficulty of carving a complex moulding that includes a hollow, two stacked ogees (both cyma-recta) of different scales, and a double then single bead. Using a plane is no different than riding a bicycle, just a lot harder to put baseball cards in the spokes.
With the highlighting, we can see those profiles that I’d described earlier a bit clearer than the original image on the V&A catalog website. When we look at such detailed elements in an historical piece, we expect them to be cut (or “stuck” declining the verb “to stick” in the context of cutting a moulding profile) out of a single thick piece of wood. Having done my own bit of work with complex moulding profiles in large stocks of lumber, I can say this is difficult and provides some very unique challenges in geometry, aside from having to deal with heavy staves of wood. I’ll never get over Macho Grande.
But on closer inspection:
The profiles are actually stuck on the various edges and faces of several smaller pieces of stock, none seeming more than an inch thick. It is quite a pleasant surprise to see this most opulent of constructions was made with the simple method of constructing each element independently before being stacked and tacked together. Each element of the plinth was stuck on a single long stave of relatively thin stock before all were stacked together and cut at a mitered corner to continue the profiles on the plinth around to the front face. For re-creationists and re-enactors, I find this to be a motivating influence to add some very interesting details (the prices for thick stock often being considered a bar to such embellishments).
From here we can also go back and look at that mitered frame-and-panel lid with a discerning eye.
Not forgetting the battens across the bottom of this piece, which assist in retaining the moulded plinth, the lid really does get intriguing. The “flat” top panel is obviously part of a frame and panel construction, but the slow double ogee curve that frames the panel appears to be made of one massive block of wood. Given the hint of the plinth, however, the likelihood of rails and stiles actually being made of several thinner pieces that were quickly stuck with a variety of basic moulding planes (or irons) makes this a much more accessible piece, for both the original maker and anyone who would use this for inspiration.
Sadly, someone did some significant due diligence in hiding their actual construction method for the top, as the inside of the lid is occulted by a single wide board that mounts the strap hinges and latch for the lock. Or, the addition of this separate board reinforces the hypothesis of smaller parts built up together. Otherwise, there would be very little means of attaching the hinges and latch! It’s really the only sensible thing to do, if its done safely.