Courtesy Nasher Museum of Art
This sixteenth-century panel once decorated the front of an Italian wedding chest (cassone) for an unidentified couple whose respective families' coats of arms are represented on either end. Following the taste for mythological allegory fashionable during the Italian Renaissance, it depicts the Roman god Neptune holding his recognizable attribute, the trident, and riding four horses.
Neptune is often associated with sea weddings—here, he is accompanied by Nereids (sea nymphs) riding dolphins and being embraced by mermen. Putti blow horns, winged figures hold wreaths above, and water spills from urns held by two river gods.
The wood is carved in both high and low relief to give sculptural volume to the figures, while suggesting spatial recession. The figure of Neptune, for example, is almost fully sculpted in the round with his left arm extending across his body, whereas his right arm and drapery are minimally carved in very low relief against the gilded background.
The powerful musculature of Neptune on this panel is reminiscent of the works of prominent Italian sculptors of the second half of the sixteenth century, such as Giovanni Bologna. The sculptor of the Nasher's cassone panel has obviously studied classical sarcophagi, which also feature mythological subjects and carvings in high relief.
June 1, 2010