“Life, Love & Marriage Chests in Renaissance Italy” opens November 16 at the Frist Art Museum

The Frist Art Museum presents Life, Love & Marriage Chests in Renaissance Italy, an exhibition that offers an intimate view of life in the Renaissance through art commissioned to celebrate marriage and family. Drawing on a selection of outstanding marriage chests, panels, and a variety of domestic objects belonging to the Museo Stibbert in Florence, Italy, the exhibition will be on view in the Frist’s Upper-Level Galleries from November 16, 2018, through February 18, 2019. 

Beginning in the late 1300s, cassoni—elaborately painted and gilded marriage chests—were an important part of marriage rituals and among the most prestigious furnishings in the house or palace of the newlyweds. Usually commissioned in pairs and shaped like ancient sarcophagi, the chests were an expression of the family’s wealth and position in society. They were conspicuously paraded through the streets from the bride’s family home to her husband’s home—a clear statement of a new economic and political alliance between elite families—and then later used in the home for seating and storage. Cassoni are considered antecedents to the hope chests popular in America until the middle of the last century.

“The chests’ function, craftsmanship, and decorative techniques, and the significance and sources of the imagery are at the heart of the exhibition,” says Frist Art Museum curator Trinita Kennedy. “We are excited to present several rare complete cassoni, as well as fragments, which include lavish wood panelsthat usually depict themes of fidelity and love as well as narrative scenes drawn from history and mythology.”

Displayed alongside the chests is an array of other art objects also made for the home, including devotional paintings, pottery, and textiles.
Exhibition Credit

This exhibition was organized by Contemporanea Progetti with the Museo Stibbert, Florence, Italy.

Public Programs

Friday, November 16Opening Night Lecture for Life, Love & Marriage Chests 6:30 p.m.in Renaissance Italy: Art, Marriage, and Family in the 
Frist Art Museum Auditorium                Florentine Renaissance Palace presented by Jacqueline 
Free Marie Musacchio, professor of art, Wellesley College

Although we live in an era when vast sums of money are lavished on wedding festivities, we are not unique: in Renaissance Florence, middle- and upper-class families spent enormous amounts on marriages that were intended to establish or consolidate the status and lineage of one or both of the respective families. This lecture explores the art and objects—not only the painted wedding chests, but also the paintings, sculptures, furniture, jewelry, clothing, and household items—associated with marriage and family life in Renaissance Florence. The rituals of marriage, birth, and death required these objects, and by examining them we can examine the life cycle of the Florentine Renaissance family.

Jacqueline Marie Musacchio earned her PhD from Princeton University. Her research focuses on the role of material culture in Italian Renaissance life, encompassing everything from sculpted portrait busts and domestic devotional images to metalwork bridal girdles and embroidered widows’ veils. She is the author of The Art and Ritual of Childbirth in Renaissance Italy and Art, Marriage, and Family in the Florentine Renaissance Palace. She has contributed to numerous exhibitions as a catalogue author or curator, most recently Art and Love in Renaissance Italy.

Thursday, December 6Curator’s Tour: Life, Love, and Marriage Chests in 
Noon Renaissance Italypresented by Trinita Kennedy, 
Meet at the exhibition entrancecurator
Free for members; admission required for not-yet-members

A Members-Only Curator’s Tour will be held on Friday, December 7, at noon. 

Cassoni, or marriage chests, were an important part of marriage rituals in Renaissance Italy. Lavishly decorated with biblical and mythological imagery, these chests offer insight into the rituals of Renaissance society. Join Trinita Kennedy as she explores how cassoni and other domestic objects promoted values of love, marriage, and family life. 

Sponsor Acknowledgment 

This exhibition is supported in part by the Metro Nashville Arts Commission, the Tennessee Arts Commission, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

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