This panel and its former companion depicting The Battle of Issus and Alexander with the Family of Darius (sold, Christie's, London, 5 July 1985, lot 68) first came to light in 1929 when they were exhibited in London at the Burlington Fine Arts Club. In 1985 Everett Fahy attributed the panels to the anonymous 'Brucianesi Master', an artist to whom he had assigned a consistent body of work. In 1988, Mr. Fahy identified the 'Brucianesi Master' as Bernardo di Stefano Rosselli (1450-1526). Having recently re-evaluated the present cassone panel firsthand, Mr. Fahy believes that it is rather by Giovanni di ser Giovanni Guido, known as Scheggia. Unlike his older brother Masaccio (1401-1428), Scheggia enjoyed a long and prosperous career, specializing in the production of cassoni (marriage chests), deschi da parto (birth trays), and designs for intarsie.
In Renaissance Italy, cassoni functioned as containers for clothes and objects of value and, by virtue of the images painted on them, also served a decorative and commemorative function in the domestic spaces in which they were installed. These opulent chests were often commissioned in pairs to celebrate the matrimonial union of powerful families. As was usually the case, a number of fanciful coats-of-arms are depicted on the present panel. However, one included here may provide a clue to the panel's origins: the side of the victor's car bears a distinctive black and silver shield which may be that of the Capponi, one of Florence's wealthiest and most illustrious families.
Because of the subject of its pendant, the triumphal procession depicted here can be identified as that of Alexander the Great, who defeated Darius III of Persia at the Battle of Issus in 333 B.C. The victor rides forward proudly, preceded by the spoils of war - gleaming armor and objects of gold - as well as prisoners shown bound and crouching in the cage in front of the triumphal car. The beggar sitting on the victor's car is a reminder of the changing turns of Fortune. Similar panels, bearing emblems of the Medici and Rucellai families, are preserved in the Musée des Arts Decoratifs, Paris. Whatever their exact subjects, works like these reflect 15th-century Florentine fascination with its own mythical Roman ancestry.
An interesting and often overlooked element of these cassone panels is their topographical aspect. The representations of biblical and ancient history they contain often take place among identifiable buildings of contemporary Florence or imaginative reconstructions of Antique Rome: for example, in The Story of Esther by Apollonio di Giovanni in the Metropolitan Museum, New York (inv. 18.117.2), knights and ladies are set before a backdrop which includes the Palazzo Rucellai, the Duomo, and the Loggia della Signoria. The present panel is no exception: Florence is seen in the distance as if from Fiesole, its skyline dominated by Brunelleschi's dome and the tower of the Palazzo Vecchio, while the procession moves rightward across the foreground towards the gates of Rome. Though abbreviated and compressed, the Campidoglio, Colosseum, and Pyramid of Caius Cestius can be recognized, oriented in the medieval manner from a northerly position. This indicates that the artist was familiar with contemporary maps of Rome based on traditional Mirabilia sources, such as those of his fellow Florentine, Piero del Massaio (fig. 1).
Philip de László, who owned this painting in the early 20th century, was a Hungarian painter known for his portraits of royal and aristocratic subjects. Born Laub Fülöp Elek, he was ennobled in 1912 by King Franz Joseph of Hungary (1830-1916), and given the surname László de Lombos. It was under this name that he lent the present work to the Burlington Fine Arts Exhibition in 1929.
Signature: Inscribed 'SPQR' (in several places)
London, Burlington Fine Arts Club, 1929-1930, no. 73.
New York, Colnaghi's, Gothic to Renaissance: European Painting 1300-1600, 1988, no. 10, as 'Bernardo di Stefano Rosselli'.
Santa Barbara, California, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Three Centuries of Old Masters, 13 May-24 September, 1989, as 'Bernardo di Stefano Rosselli'.
E. Callmann, Apollonio di Giovanni, 1974, pp. 73-74, no. 53, pls. 211 and 299, 'a comporatively late work...from Apollonio's shop or by an artist familiar with its idiom'.
E. Callmann, 'Botticelli's 'Life of Saint Zenobius', The Art Bulletin, LXVI, September 1984, p. 493, fig. 5 (detail), as 'Workshop of Apollonio di Giovanni'.
PROPERTY FROM A DISTINGUISHED PRIVATE COLLECTION
Philip A. de László, M.V.O. by 1929; Sotheby's, London, 15 June 1938, lot 120, as 'Florentine school, circa 1450', lot 119 (purchased by Berry).
Baron Cassel van Doorn; sale, Filching Manor, 1954 (purchased by Spink).
with Spink and Son, Ltd., London.
Mr. and Mrs. Geoffrey Merton Collection, London, by 1974.
Anonymous sale; Christie's, London, 5 July 1985, lot 67, as 'The Brucianesi Master'.
with Colnaghi's, New York, from whom acquired by the present owner.
About Giovanni di ser Giovanni Guido (called Lo Scheggia)
Italian, 1406-1486, Florence, Italy, based in Florence, Italy