The Pillow of Archbishop Antonio degli Agli

12:53 01 October in Insights

Monsignor Antonio di Bellincione from the ancient and powerful degli Agli family, “extremely learned in Greek and in Latin and a man of great honesty”, according to the characterization by his biographer Vespasiano da Bisticci, from 1439 he was the parish priest of the church of Santa Maria which he endowed with numerous architectural interventions and where he died in 1477.
During the bombing the church underwent in the course of the last war, the sepulcher of Bishop degli Agli did not suffer serious damage, but the cover moved, so that, at the war’s end, an inspection of the remains took place. On that occasion, the pillow on which the bishop’s head rested and the veil that covered his face were recovered. The veil, made from embroidered netting, had Christ’s monogram in the center, surrounded by rays with geometric motifs, stars and flowers along the edge. But, in the darkness of the tomb, the greatest astonishment was caused by the incredible pillow, that must have glittered almost like a kaleidoscope with dazzling colors and an array of geometric designs of stars, triangles, diamonds, squares in shades of pink, white, green, azure, purple, blue. On the front of the pillow, there are eight-pointed stars inside circles, while a geometric design made up of small wool squares adorns the back.

Beyond the originality of the extremely modern taste of these funerary furnishings, what is surprising is the patchwork technique, that uses about thirty different pieces of fabric (wools, silks, lampas, damasks, velvets) from different sources: clothes, upholstery, home-woven wools. The pillow, an “origliere” or a “carello” for its decorative motifs, especially on the back finds its most striking likeness to the Cosmati tarsias and floors, recalling the cardinals’ tombs inside the Roman churches and, above all, the pillows of funerary monuments on which the popes of “Avignon Captivity” lay, housed in the Petit Palais museum in Avignon.

It is difficult to date this object that probably goes back to the very early years of the 15th century because of the extensive geometric motifs; despite the re-use of fabrics, the elegant execution, full of discerning taste, refers to a cultured and refined milieu.

by 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