Cosi, The Things and Symbols of the Italian Renaissance

I recently visited our nation’s capitol and had chance to attend a lecture on the symbolism of art in the Italian Renaissance. I have long understood the symbols used in literature and art, but hadn’t put pen to paper for my fellow reenactors to describe how artists decorated household items with symbols appropriate to their purpose and use. The information I’ve compiled here is put forth with the hope that it inspires some to re-create on a micro scale and add items ripe with symbols and meanings to their kit.

The first item up for discussion is the cassone, the marriage chest. To celebrate a wedding rooms were lavishly decorated according to the wealth of the families involved. This furniture was designed, constructed, and painted for the specific occasion and the specific couple. Among the furniture given to a bride and groom, cassoni were presented in pairs decorated with scenes considered appropriate to marriage. We have quite a few extant cassone panels, with many being sold in private auctions for well over $1 Million US dollars ( The one pictured below is located at the Museum of Fine Arts in Copenhagen and was painted by Giovanni di Ser Giovanni, also known as Lo Scheggia, in the mid-1400s. It features a naked figure on the inside of the lid – perhaps designed to shock the blushing bride upon opening.

Cassone by Lo Scheggia
Cassone by Lo Scheggia

Decorating your wooden camp items with heraldic and artistic figures would be most appropriate.

Households also needed objects from which to eat and drink, and the affluent liked to show they could afford the best. Sculptor Benvenuto Cellini made this remarkable saliera (salt-cellar) for Francis I of France in the 1540s from models that had been prepared many years earlier for Cardinal Ippolito d’Este. It represents the terra e mare (land and sea, as the seated figures), and their legs intertwined as when inlets enter the land. This work of ivory, rolled gold, and enamel shows the artist’s skill with metal, and tells Francis’ guests that he could afford the best materials and the most brilliant artists. With salt being a valuable commodity this saliera also represented the political importance of Francis’ taxes on salt, which made up much of his country’s revenue. The salt would be placed in the small boat next to the male figure and the pepper would be placed in the small temple next to the female figure. Two years after finishing this work Cellini returned to Florence to the patronage of Cosimo I de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany. This saliera is located at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna and insured for $66 Million US dollars.

Saliera by Cellini
Saliera by Cellini

Using a salt-cellar at feast, made of wood, glass, stone, or metal and decorated with something of note for your persona would enhance any table setting.

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