The “capes” of the Madonna of Impruneta
The sacred paraments displayed in the museum are only a limited part – as it comes out from the ancient inventories – of the basilica’s textile sets, increased over the centuries by precious gifts to the Virgin, especially on the occasion of the famous processions of 1633 and 1711. In the limited number of objects – all of the highest quality – it is necessary to emphasize the presence of a large group of “capes”, specific objects, specially made for the Madonna of Impruneta.
The capes are rectangular cloths, used to cover devotional images, as for example, the Santissima Annunziata in Florence, increasing their aura of sacredness. In the specific case of the Madonna of Impruneta, the cape was not just used to cover the image on the altar but it also accompanied the Madonna in her processions. The Basilica’s first existing inventory, from 1432, does not mention any capes in its list, leaving the doubt if at the time there was the custom of keeping the image covered. Anyway, it turns out that already in 1466 four capes were donated to the Virgin and other donations are recorded in 1470 and 1547. In addition, we know that the Company of Saint Hilary, linked by deep devotion to the Virgin, during the processions, had the privilege of uncovering the image.
In the 18th century document about the repainting of the image by Ignazio Hugford, the parish priest Giugni, in order to see the Madonna, had to lift seven capes. So, both in the engravings by Stefano della Bella and Cosimo Mogalli as well as in an 18th century engraving of the Biblioteca Marucelliana (vol.LXXIV, no. 90), the Madonna is always covered by capes that, protecting her from being looked at and conferring on her the mystery of a greater sacredness, were certainly the objects that came into direct contact with the holy Image.
For this reason, the capes were privileged gifts made to the Virgin together with chasubles, pluvials and altar cloths, as recorded in the Nota dei doni (list of gifts) by Rondinelli and the Elenchi (lists) by Casotti.
In a very beautiful cape of embroidered silver lamé taffeta, kept, for reasons of preservation, in the sacristy, Marquess Giulia Spada Riccardi explains, in a long inscription on the lining, the reason of her gift: for her and her son’s salvation. The remarkable sampling displayed in the museum’s section of fabrics belongs to different eras and productions with examples of Tuscan, Venetian and French production datable from the 16 th century to the 18th century. The capes were made of different fabrics (different kinds of velvet, satin, damask, taffeta) and using various techniques (embroidery, brocading, damasking), that enables us to retrace the history of fabrics from the 16 th century designs ranging from little flames and thistle flowers to the refined 17th-18th century motifs of lace or silk Bizzarre fabrics with fantastic designs of oriental style.
The presence, on the “capes”, of inscriptions or noble armorial bearings enables us to deepen our knowledge of the history of the Holy Image and its connection with the city of Florence.
The capes displayed in the museum were offered by various donors: corporations such as the Gold-beater’s and Tradesmen’s which donated the two 16 th century capes in red velvet; companies such as the (Company of the Stigmata, the same one which had commissioned the arcade of the church to Gherardo Silvani in 1634 and which donated the cape together with a piece of altar hangings made from the same fabric); noble families such as the families: Caccini da Verrazzano, Strozzi, Alemanni Franceschi, Panciatichi. In some of these capes, the central part is decorated with the Virgin’s monogram surmounted by a crown. Finally, on the occasion of the 1711 procession, the Company of the Archangel Raphael gave the Virgin a silver door (currently in the museum’s section of silver works) that must have been a permanent protection on the altar and which saved the Sacred Image from bombing raids during the last world war.
Rosanna Caterina Proto Pisani
in, Museo del Tesoro di Santa Maria dell’Impruneta, Guida alla visita del museo e alla scoperta del territorio, a cura di Caterina Caneva. Polistampa 2005