e-maj: issue 1 July-December (2005)
Cassone and spalliere panels depicting the Old Testament Book of Esther were produced by a number of Florentine artists during the fifteenth century. The workshops of Jacopo Sellaio; Filippino Lippi and Marco del Buono Giamberti and Apollonio di Giovanni di Tomaso present Esther as a humble and virtuous queen. Their choice of scenes from the text and distinctive characterisation of the heroine can be interpreted in light of the purpose and function of cassone and spalliere in fifteenth-century Florence, in particular the association of such items with marriage. Representations of Esther can also be interpreted in light of contemporary sources on female education. These recommended depictions of righteous heroines as useful in promoting virtuous behaviour in women, and discussed Esther as an example of obedience and good conduct. In this context, representations of Esther on such marriage furniture can be interpreted as presenting didactic lessons for Renaissance brides.
The Old Testament Book of Esther (Esth. i–x) is a remarkable account of extravagant feasts, plots and poisons, hangings and harems. It is the story of an eponymous Queen of Persia and is replete with extraordinary luxury, scheming advisers and palace intrigue. In fifteenth-century Florence the workshops of Marco del Buono Giamberti and Apollonio di Giovanni di Tomaso; Jacopo Sellaio and Filippino Lippi represented the story of Esther on cassone and spalliere panels. Their meek and demure Esther contrasts the assertively heroic monarch apparent in contemporary works in other media, such as the Andrea del Castagno’s frescoes in the Villa Carducci. An analysis of the context and function of cassone and spalliere can be used to interpret this distinctive presentation of Esther.