URN-SHAPED BOX OF BISHOP IACOPO VAGNUCCI
Carved wood, gilded and partially decorated in polychrome
According to the Latin epigraph on the inside of the cover this important urn-shaped wooden box was made in 1462 for the bishop of Perugia, Jacopo Vagnucci: “+ EGO IACOb EPUS P[er]USINUS hANC URNAM FECI FIERI Ad hONOREM S LAURENTII MCCCCLXII”.
Iacopo Vagnucci (1416-1487), born in Cortona, was bishop in Perugia between 1449 and 1482. He was a generous purchaser of art objects and commissioned Luca Signorelli to create the Pala di Sant’Onofrio, one of the artist’s greatest masterpieces, currently preserved in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo in Perugia.
As the inscription states, the box was dedicated to Saint Lawrence, who is depicted in the central section in a peaceful Umbrian setting. Noteworthy ‘a estofado’ decorations and alternating blue and red ‘grafitte’ on a gold background embellish the other areas.
The crest of the Vagnucci which appears on both sides of the reliquary, stamped with the bishop’s miter accompanied by lappets, is thus emblazoned: Light blue with a standing bear in gold, crowned in gold holding in its forepaws a branch of green leaves with three red flowers.
An exhaustive study by Mario Minari clarified several aspects related to the creation of this rare artifact. First he noted how the figure of Saint Lawrence and the Vagnucci coat of arms on the box are clearly similar to ones in the missal commissioned by Bishop Vagnucci now in the Capitolare Library in Perugia (ms. 10, c.7r). The decoration of the missal has been attributed to Pierantonio di Niccolò del Pocciolo and dated to around 1475. Furthermore, Minari pointed out that the bishop’s coat-of-arms also seems similar to one on a reliquary which was given to the parish church of Santa Maria di Cortona (now in the Diocesan museum), on which also appears an inscription that is similar to that on our box.
Several peculiarities in the decoration of this latter, in particular the “the articulated multi-lobed design created by the relief moldings on the box”, “the refined plant-like decorations on blue and red backgrounds” and the “lozenge decorations on the back of the box” – are not consonant with the date of 1462 indicated by the inscription and, instead, have many more similarities to examples of paintings from the end of the 1400s. These peculiarities lead Minardi to “propose a date for the creation of the work not before about 1480-90”, perhaps as a substitute for the artifact commissioned by Bishop Vagnucci in 1462.
Umbria, end of the 15th century