The Whitsun Cassone
Oil on panel
81 x 198 cm
Campion Hall, University of Oxford
Campion Hall in Oxford was established by the Society of Jesus in 1896 as a private Hall of the University
It has many treasures
This cassone is but one
A cassone (or forziere) was a type of decorated wooden dowry chest from central Italy, used extensively from the end of the fourteenth, through the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.
The construction and decoration of cassoni closely parallel methods used for contemporary altarpieces
It took about a month to paint a cassone front
According to Vasari, the Florentine Apollonio di Giovanni di Tomaso (1414 – 1465) specialised in the painting of such cassoni
Their decoration changed from painted design in the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries to carving (sometimes partially gilt) in the second half of the sixteenth century.
This cassone depicts the descent of the Holy Spirit at the First Pentecost or Whitsunday as described in the Acts of the Apostles, 2: 1–4.
Mary is at the centre of the gathering of the Apostles and disciples in Jerusalem
"1 When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together.
2 And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were.
3 Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them.
4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim"
However there are some differences
The setting is in the open air and not in a house
The tongues of fire are not yet on the people assembled
The scene is the one before the first proclamation (or kerygma) by St Peter of the messianic significance of the death and resurrection of Jesus:
"Exalted at the right hand of God, he received the promise of the Holy Spirit from the Father and poured it forth, as you (both) see and hear ...
Therefore let the whole house of Israel know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified."