Tiles, like towels, maintain both utilitarian and aesthetic value. A natural pairing, then, perhaps it will come as no surprise that we soon found ourselves drawn to a range of tile motifs while designing what eventually became Agnes.

Figures from 'South Italian Tile Ornaments', 1885.
"Prudence" by Andrea della Robbia, circa 1475.

More specifically, Agnes is inspired by the work of Italian artisans in the 15th and 16th century, who used a tin-glaze technique known as maiolica. Introduced to Italy via Spain, Italian potters specializing in maiolica soon established themselves as experts in their craft, enlisting brilliant colors like green, purple, cobalt blue, orange, and yellow to depict patterns and scenes of increasingly intricate detail.

Maiolica tiles from the chapel of Fère-en-Tardenois, circa 1530.
Contemporary maiolica-inspired tile sample.

Maiolica tiles were initially used to cover floors, altar pieces, frescoes, and painted ceilings. (Consider the Mazzatosta Chapel in the Church of Santa Maria della Verità, for instance, or the Cappella di San Sebastiano in the church of San Petronio.) Later, plates, plaques, and vases were commissioned by the Italian aristocracy, featuring a new type of decoration called istoriato, or story painting (translation: “painted with stories”). Inspired by both Greek and Roman mythology and the Christian Bible, these stories produced some of the most stunning examples of maiolica today.

Albarello vessel, Italian Renaissance, 1515.
Gold maiolica bowl, early Spanish Renaissance.

In comparison to the complexity of maiolica, Agnes is strikingly simple. Indeed, Agnes is pared back, understated, and considered, whereas maiolica is endlessly intricate and involved. The relationship remains, however. Look closely: the pattern of Agnes mimics that of a tile; in the marine blue hue, one is reminded of maiolica’s iconic cobalt; and finally, as a subtle nod to the Mediterranean, Agnes pays tribute to her origin story. 

Revisit Agnes – available as a towel, hand towel, and bath mat – here.

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