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Italian Renaissance Learning Resources

In collaboration with the National Gallery of Art


Term applied to Tuscan 15th- and early 16th-century painted wall panels. Originally the term denoted panels that were set into the wall panelling at head or shoulder height above the backrest of a piece of furniture. It was later extended to include panel paintings set into the wall and was an integral part of the wainscoting. With few exceptions, spalliere are characterized by their size and shape—larger than cassone panels and proportionally higher, but still two to three times as long as high. . . . These pictures were installed above a piece of furniture, such as one or more cassoni, a bed or a lettuccio (a high-backed bench with a chest below the seat that doubled as a narrow bed). . . . The upward migration of pictures from chest to wall was necessitated by the increasing acceptance of the idea that the perspective within a composition ought to be constructed to work from a spectator’s viewpoint. Furthermore, whether cause or result, by the third quarter of the 15th century, paintings were much more highly esteemed in the domestic setting and quality was deemed more desirable, as attested by a higher proportion of panels by leading artists made specifically for domestic settings.

Ellen Callmannr