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The Justice of Trajan
Italian, Veronese
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This is the second of a pair of panels from a piece of painted furniture, a cassone (large chest). The panels show a story from the life of the Roman Emperor Trajan, widely known from Jacopo da Voragine’s Golden Legend of about 1260 and retold by Dante in the Divine Comedy in the early fourteenth century.

Trajan was preparing to leave for a military campaign when a widow asked for justice for her son, who had been killed by Trajan’s own son. The Emperor promised this on his return, but, after the widow pointed out that he might not come back, he duly held a court. Here, in the second scene of the story, Trajan sits on the left on a raised marble throne, dispensing justice. The widow stands before him, while soldiers and civilians look on.

Key facts
Artist Italian, Veronese
Full title The Justice of Trajan
Series Cassone Panels with Scenes from the Life of Trajan
Date made probably about 1475-1500
Medium and support Tempera on spruce
Dimensions 33.5 x 33 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1883
Inventory number NG1136
Location in Gallery Not on display
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Cassone Panels with Scenes from the Life of Trajan

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These two panels once adorned a cassone, a large decorated chest. Cassoni were prestigious and expensive items of furniture, and they often showed scenes from classical poetry or history; battles and moral stories were especially popular. A number of surviving late fifteenth-century cassoni from Verona depict the tale shown here, the so-called Justice of Trajan.

The extravagant frames with their paired dolphins are nineteenth-century replacements for the original pastiglia (raised decoration made from liquid plaster) frames. They were probably very similar to those on a large chest in the Detroit Institute of Arts, the front of which has two panels in decorative pastiglia frames on either side of a central panel, also in pastiglia, with a coat of arms. This seems to have been a popular arrangement in late fifteenth-century Verona, and our panels were presumably originally arranged in the same way.

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