Cassone - inv. 1652
This carved and gilded wooden cassone is an example of the wedding chests which the wealthier families commissioned from the finest artists and craftsmen. Intended to contain the bridal trousseau, they were sometimes even borne about the streets of the city to be admired as symbols of social prestige. The two tondi painted in tempera are by Bartolomeo Montagna. The favourite subjects for these cassoni were generally scenes of nuptial festivities or processions or, as here, events which evoked love between husband and wife and women virtue.
The first is narrated by Saint Jerome in the Adversus Iovinianum: the consul Gaius Duilius, famous for defeating the Carthaginians in the naval battle of Mylae (Milazzo) in 260 BC, was accused by a rival during a discussion of having bad breath. On returning home, the old soldier asked his wife why she had never told him this embarrassing fact, to which she replied that she had always thought that all men had bad breath.
The tondo shows the meeting between husband and wife in a classical architectural setting, with a nude young male statue in the centre, probably the god Mars. The two central figures are wearing 15th-century clothes, a common anachronism in Renaissance painting. In this work, Bartolomeo Montagna tackles a difficult narrative subject: the anecdote was in fact based on dialogue. He adopted the solution of inserting an inscription on the base of the column between the pair, which carries Bilia’s words: DIXISSEM / TIBI NISI / PUTASSEM / OMNIBUS / VIRIS / OS / [SIC] OLERE ("I would have told you, if I hadn’t thought that all men’s mouths stink like that").
The second tondo instead depicts the story of Tuccia, narrated by Valerius Maximus in Dictorum et factorum memorabilium exempla, (VIII, 1, 5), and by Pliny in Naturalis Historia, (XXVIII, 12). A vestal virgin unjustly accused of not having respected the vows of chastity succeeds in proving her innocence by miraculously taking water in a sieve from the Tevere to the temple of Vesta. The scene is set outside: on the right, the stairs leading to the river and the prow of a boat; on the left, the entrance to the temple, and in the background, arcades and city walls. Tuccia hurries, the sieve in her hands, to complete her task to the astonishment of onlookers.
The coat of arms in the middle, with a bear rampant, might be of the Buri family of Verona.