Large casket, Embriachi school

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Venice, Italy
C. 1475-1500
softwood base, glued with wood and bone (some colored green), bone (partially green colored), pewter
15.5 cm
41.5 cm
30.5 cm

E. Berger, Prunk-Kassetten: Europäischen Meisterwerke aus acht Jahrhunderten / Ornamental Caskets: Eight Centuries of European Craftsmanship, Hanns Schell Collection, Stuttgart/Graz 1998, pp. 89 -101.
F. Gualandi, L. Mor & G. Gaggioli, Capsellae. Cassette-reliquario e cofanetti della collezione Fornaro Gaggioli. Secoli XIII-XVI, Bologna 2006, pp. 18 - 22.
P. Lorenzelli & A. Veca, Tra/e: Teche, pissidi, cofani e forzieri dall’Alto Medioevo al Barocco, Gallereria Lorenzelli, Bergamo 1984, pp. 260 - 263.
M. Pall, Versperrbare Kostbarkeiten, Kästchen und Kabinette aus der Welt, Hanns Schell Collection, Graz 2006, p. 38.

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This large casket is richly decorated with the characteristic geometric patterns of the Embriachi style. The sides of the casket are decorated with a checkerboard pattern, a band with black and white half diamonds and a band with a triangular ribbon pattern. The lid of the casket is decorated with a geometric pattern of triangles, forming star-shaped figures, framed with three bands, consisting of one band with the same pattern as on the sides, a diamond shaped pattern in green and orange, and an arrow-shaped band. On the lid is a beautiful and intricate star-shaped figure, in a green roundel, encircled with diamond shaped figures, in the same pattern as the inner band on the lid, linked together. These patterns are created by juxtaposing lighter and darker pieces of wood, (colored) bone, pewter and black ebony. This is ‘intarsia technique’, a term derived from the Arabic 'tarsi', which means 'incrustation'. The lid and base are framed by a broad band of horn.

The application of geometric motifs is known in Italy as marquetry 'alla certosina' after the Certosina church in Pavia with its famous altarpiece decorated in this way. 'Alla certosina' became famous through the Embriachi family who achieved a particularly high standard working in this technique. This casket was intended to keep important documents, money or jewelry safe.  Both materials and design of this casket show the influence of the Islamic world upon luxury objects in 16th century Italy. The trade routes between states like Venice and the cities of the eastern Mediterranean resulted in a two-way cultural exchange.  

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