Florence 1402 /1403 – 1489
Florence 1395 /1435 – 1445/1485
tempera on wood panel
39.2 (h) x 56.0 (w) cm Accademia Carrara, Bergamo
Bequest of Antonietta Noli, widow of Carlo Marenzi 1901
We are presented here with an enigma: what is the meaning of this painting and who created it? The panel depicts a crowd of some two dozen figures walking from right to left. Leading the procession is a fair-haired girl (a princess?) accompanied by an old man (her father?) wearing a crown. With the exception of several middle-aged men with dark grey beards, most of the people are young. Everybody is luxuriously dressed, the men and women in long robes and gowns, the lads in short tunics and colourful leggings. One prominent man wears a red mazzocchio, a type of hood worn by politically active Florentines; its long loose ends hang down over his pink robe. What is unusual is that the hands of all the figures are shackled.
In the late fourteenth and fifteenth centuries some Tuscan painters specialised in decorating cassoni, chests often given on marriage to hold the bride’s trousseau. The long rectangular fronts of these chests average about 40cm high and 140cm long. Given its dimensions the painting could be the right half of a cassone front. Nothing is known about the panel before 1901 when Countess Antonietta Noli Marenzi bequeathed it to the Accademia Carrara as an anonymous work representing the marriage cortege of Beatrice d’Este (1475–1497), wife of Lodovico Sforza, Duke of Milan. In 1928 Roberto Longhi proposed that it represents Petrarch’s poem Triumph of love, presumably thinking the shackled figures were slaves of love. Petrarch’s Triumphs were a popular subject for painted furnishings at this time. The panel is unlikely to represent the Triumph of love however, as in all depictions of the subject the only person with bound hands is Cupid.
Longhi attributed the work to Bonifacio Bembo, a Lombard painter who carried out many commissions for Francesco Sforza (none of which survive). Longhi acknowledged that the ‘imaginative characterisation’ recalls Florentine cassone panels, and it is to the partnership of the prolific Florentine cassone painters Marco del Buono and Apollonio di Giovanni that I would attribute the panel.
Marco was trained by the late Gothic Florentine painter Bicci di Lorenzo, whose influence permeates the panel. Marco in turn trained Apollonio when he was a teenager in the early 1430s, which may explain why it is impossible to distinguish the work of one from the other. The figures resemble those in Marco and Apollonio’s earliest works. Another indication of an early date are the towering hats worn by some of the bearded men. They were inspired by the exotic costumes of the Greek Orthodox patriarchs who attended the Ecumenical Council of Florence in 1439, and appear in other Tuscan paintings of the time. The mystery of this scene may only be solved if other fragments of the cassone come to light.
 The proposed dating of the panel, c.1440s, would rule this out.
 Roberto Longhi, ‘La restituzione di un trittico d’arte cremonese circa il 1460 (Bonifacio Bembo)’, Pinacotheca 2, September–October 1928, p. 87, reprinted in ‘Me pinxit’ e Quesiti caravaggeschi. Edizione delle opere complete di Roberto Longhi, vol. 4, Florence: Sansoni, 1968, p. 66, note 6.
 Attribution by the author for the National Gallery of Australia exhibition 2011.
 Bicci di Lorenzo (1373–1452).
 Such as the birth salver formerly in the Somervell collection and the little panel of the Annunciation in the Collegiata at Castiglione d’Olona in Lombardy; see Howard Saalman, ‘The Castiglione d’Olona “Annunciation” ’, Burlington Magazine, vol. 132, 1990, p. 573.