The exhibition reunites 24 leaves from an exceptional manuscript that was disassembled in the early 19th century. Illuminated by the artists Pacino di Bonaguida and the Master of the Dominican Effigies, the Laudario of Sant'Agnese represents the most beautifully executed and ambitiously designed illuminated manuscript from the period in Florence.
Pentecost / Pacino di Buonaguida
The Laudario of Sant'Agnese was likely disassembled due to the high quality of its elaborate decoration. Twenty-eight leaves and fragments survived, and all but two of these are now in 16 collections across Europe and the United States; only one leaf remains in Italy where the Laudario was created. By reconstructing the sequence of the Laudario's surviving leaves using art historical analysis, conservation methods, and technical studies, we can gain a greater understanding of the original appearance of this complex and extraordinary book.

An Extraordinary Book of Hymns

The late 13th and early 14th centuries saw the rise of Italian mercantile cities and the increased wealth and social status of those who occupied the merchant class. As shopkeepers, traders, and artisans became increasingly involved in civic life, they began to assemble into lay confraternities, or compagnie, which performed charitable works and gathered to pray and sing hymns of praise, or laude. As one of the oldest lauda-singing confraternities in Florence, the Compagnia di Sant'Agnese, based at the Church of Santa Maria del Carmine, celebrated this tradition by commissioning a luxury manuscript, known as a laudario, to compile the songs that were central to its members' daily lives.

The Compagnia di Sant'Agnese was well known for the elaborate Ascension play that it performed in Florence every year. Thus, the high quality of the delicately painted illumination above, depicting Christ's ascension into heaven, reflects the importance of this feast for the confraternity.

In the upper portion of this miniature, Christ stands atop a translucent cloud wearing radiant white and vivid yellow garments as he ascends into heaven accompanied by four angels. Below, the 12 apostles and the Virgin Mary gaze expectantly upward in awe, craning their necks and shading their eyes from Christ's brilliance.

The illumination above was cut out of a leaf from the Laudario. At center, Lawrence is shown during his martyrdom, his face displaying an expression of religious ecstasy.

Rather than relinquishing church funds to the Roman emperor Decius, Saint Lawrence, a deacon of Rome during the third century, handed out all the money to the needy, and as punishment was ordered to be burned alive on a hot grill. Previously, scenes of Saint Lawrence's martyrdom depicted him writhing in pain on the grill; however, in this unusual example he is shown perfectly peaceful and rapt in prayer.