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36 East 73rd Street New York City, NY 10021 United States 212.517.9176
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$ 8,500

Sweet Meat Box, Tuscany circa 1450-1500

Origin Italy
Period Pre 18th Century
Materials gilded and painted popular wood (pioppo)
Dimensions
W. 2 in; H. 4.87 in; Diam. 5.11 in;
W. 5.08 cm; H. 12.38 cm; Diam. 12.98 cm;
Condition Excellent.
Description These boxes were made of thin pieces of poplar wood, which were steamed to bend into elaborate polygonal star or octagonal forms. On a layer of gesso, patterns of stylized floral and foliate motifs or, more rarely, of figural motifs were punched, then gilded, and sometimes further decorated with polychrome paint. Occasionally, fir wood, which is not as easily warped as poplar, was used for the base and lid of the boxes. Due to the delicate nature of their construction, these boxes rarely survive.
Long known as scatole di suore (boxes of sisters), these boxes, which are typical of Tuscany, were believed to have been used by nuns in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century to house clasps and other precious elements of a Bishop’s clothing. However, there seems to be not direct evidence of this ecclesiastic use for these boxes. In fact, the paltriness of the materials and religiously nonspecific, and sometimes distinctly secular, decoration seem to belie any ties to the Church. Contemporary paintings depict what appears to be similarly constructed poplar boxes on the shelves of scholars’ studies as well as on a birthing tray, or desco da parto (see P. Thornton, The Italian Renaissance Interior, 1400-1600, New York, 1991, no. 79, 107, 210). It can be conjectured that these boxes might have been used to store sweet meats.
Although the forms of these boxes seem to be late Gothic or early Renaissance in derivation, the stylistic range of decoration on these boxes also seems to expand the possible dating of them. While some of the quatrefoil shaped boxes are ornamented with late Gothic foliate scrolls, other similarly shaped, as well as octagonal and heart shaped, examples feature distinctly Baroque urns and baskets issuing flowers.
Styles / Movements Traditional
Dealer Reference Number box 16a
Incollect Reference Number 293015
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