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25 June 2019 | 10:30am

Fine Sculpture, Early Works of Art and Garden Ornament

Lot 19

A Tuscan gessoed and gilt poplar wood scatola di suora (nun’s box)

Estimate £200 - £300 + fees

A Tuscan gessoed and gilt poplar wood scatola di suora (nun's box), Florence or Siena, circa 1500, of quatre-lobed stellar section, the lift off cover with a central oval reserve amongst punched scrolling foliate motifs, the sides similarly decorated

5cm high, 12.5cm wide



Boxes of this type were made of thin pieces of poplar wood, steamed to bend into elaborate polygonal and stellar forms. On a layer of gesso, patterns of stylized floral and foliate motifs or, more rarely, of figural motifs were punched, then gilded, and sometimes further decorated with polychrome paint. Occasionally, fir wood, which is not as easily warped as poplar, was used for the base and lid of the boxes. These boxes are rare survivals, given their delicate construction

Long known as scatole di suore (boxes of sisters), these typically Tuscan boxes were believed to have been used by nuns in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century to house clasps and other precious elements of a Bishops clothing. However, there seems to be no direct evidence of this ecclesiastical use. In fact, the paltriness of the materials and religiously nonspecific, (and sometimes distinctly secular,) decoration seem to belie any ties to the Church. Contemporary paintings depict what appear to be similarly constructed poplar boxes on the shelves of scholars studies as well as on a birthing tray, or desco da parto (see P. Thornton, The Italian Renaissance Interior, 1400-1600, New York, 1991, no. 79, 107, 210). -As with most things, it is probably unwise to ascribe a particular use to something that could have housed virtually anything whose dimensions allowed it


See Christie's London, Sculpture, 7th July 1998, lot 5 for comparables


Condition report disclaimer