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Title Casket with Scenes from the life of St John the Baptist
Collection Victoria and Albert Museum
Artist Studio of Simone dei Crocifissi (Italian painter, active 1355-1399)
Date Earliest about 1355
Date Latest about 1365
Description This casket is lavishly decorated with various saints and scenes from the life of St John the Baptist. It is characteristic of Gothic painting in Bologna around 1350, and was probably made for a member of the Baisi family of Bologna, who was either a bishop or a priest. The same coat of arms is painted at both ends of the lid, and emblazoned with a bishop's mitre and crozier, and with the crossed keys of St Peter. Simone di Filippo called ‘dei Crocefissi' (active in Bologna between 1355 and 1399) was perhaps a pupil of Vitale da Bologna (before 1309-1359/61). He was the father-in-law of the painter Dalmasio de' Scannabecchi and was elected an elder of the Porta San Procolo district in 1380. Very little is known about his work.
Current Accession Number 351-1864
Inscription front lid 'S. Johannes Battista'; back lid 'S ELIZABHET S MARIA MATER DEI'; front and back with names of saints
Subject figure; religion (Baptism of Christ; Birth of St John the Baptist)
Measurements 24 x 33.5 x 15.5 cm
Material tempera and gold on wood
Acquisition Details Purchased 1863 for £20.
Provenance Delange, M., of Paris.
Publications Victoria & Albert Museum, Fifty Masterpieces of Woodwork, No. 1, London, 1955; Thornton, Peter, 'I mobili italiani del Victoria & Albert Museum' in Arte Illustrata, Vol. II, July - September 1969, p. 77; Kauffmann, C.M., Catalogue of Foreign Paintings, I. Before 1800, London, 1973, p. 266; Thornton, Peter, 'Cassoni, Forzieri, Goffani and Cassette, Terminology and its problems', in Apollo, vol. CXX, 1984, no.272, pp.246-251.

Originally acquired as Florentine, this casket has since been attributed to Simone dei Crocefissi by John Pope-Hennessy (oral communication), an attribution supported by Peter Thornton (1984). Characteristically shaped like a Medieval Italian tomb, this casket shows, on a gilded background with eroded pastiglia work, the half-length figures of the apostles (St Peter, St John the Evangelist, St Bartholomew, and St Matthew), two unknown saints, as well as the four evangelists, and St Christopher, St Anthony Abbot and St Liberius. On each end three apostles stand with a coat of arms: the three fishes in pale are probably those of the Baisi family of Bologna; while the mitre, crossed keys and crosier allude to a senior cleric, such as a bishop.

Caskets were part of the medieval household and were used to store precious items such as books and papers. They may also have had an ecclesiastical use for storing bibles, small liturgical utensils and even reliquaries. The present casket was probably decorated for such a purpose.

The figures of the saints are characteristic of Simone dei Crocefissi's output. Many of his works, preserved in the Pinacoteca Nazionale, in Bologna, can be compared with the present work, especially a Crucifixion of Christ from ca. 1370 (Inv. 286). This Crucifixion displays very similar figures, though more refined, with contours strongly outlined with a heavy black line.

Its decoration would have made it a rare and prized item. The owner was most likely from Bologna, a city with a flourishing school of illuminators and miniaturists, such as Andrea da Bologna (fl. 1370s) and its presumed artist, Simone dei Crocifissi. At this time and until the High Renaissance, decorating furniture was as much part of an artist's activity as painting altar-pieces or illuminating manuscripts.

Rights Owner © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Author Ana Debenedetti



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