The Della Robbia Family
( Originally Published 1915 )
Luca della Robbia. 1399—1482.
Andrea della Robbia. 1435—1525.
Giovanni della Robbia. 1469—1529.
" Nothing brings the real air of a Tuscan town so vividly to mind as those pieces of pale blue and white earthenware, like fragments of the sky itself, fallen into the cool streets, and breaking into the darkened churches." Walter Pater.
Luca della Robbia first worked in marble, making the Singing Gallery of the Duomo in 1431—1438. He designed the bronze doors for the Sacristy, a commission which Donatello had failed to accomplish. Above the doors are the lunettes of the Resurrection and the Ascension, Luca's first use of the glazed terra-cotta that bears his name. Tabernacles in Peretola and Impruneta, near Florence, and medallions in S. Miniato and the Pazzi Chapel are his larger works in this material. Many lunettes and reliefs are also attributed to him. A number of the coats of arms of the Guilds over the niches on Or San Michele are by Luca and Andrea.
Andrea della Robbia, Luca's nephew, worked with him and continued the business after his death. The Bambini of the Innocenti, the altarpieces at La Verna, at the Osservanza, Siena, and in S. Croce, Florence, are among his more important independent pieces. Many altarpieces are now gathered in the National Museum of the Bargello, and works attributed to him and to Luca are found throughout Italy.
Andrea associated with himself his five sons, Giovanni being the most active and individual. He used many colors, introduced perspective, and sometimes painted in the background.
Girolamo, last of Andrea's sons, went to France in 1527, and for forty years was occupied in constructing from Della Robbia ware a pleasure palace for Francis I, the "Chateau de Madrid."
There is much uncertainty and discussion regarding the works to be attributed to the various members of this family who worked together so continuously. Even those who have made most careful studies do not agree. The beauty and the value of each individual work is not thereby impaired.
Luca was preeminently a sculptor, whatever the medium he used. Andrea's work is characterized by gentleness, grace, and beauty. Of all the Florentine artists he best understood and loved children.
NOTES ON THE PICTURES.
No. 453. Singing Gallery.
Nos. 454, 455. Panels.
Cathedral Museum, Florence.
Marble, executed 1431–1440 and placed above the door into the North Sacristy, a counterpart to the one by Donatello. It suffered the same vicissitudes, and the two are now placed opposite each other, but in a room too small for their best effect.
The pilasters between the reliefs are believed to have been slender ones like those in the pulpit at Prato, 442. (Cruttwell, 48–50.) The Laudate Domine from Psalm 150 is inscribed above and below, and is made the theme of the reliefs, which are carefully placed with due appreciation of musical harmony.
Study the architectural structure of the Gallery; the sculptural quality of the panels, their composition and arrangement; the individuality and genius of the whole. Compare point by point with Donatello's Gallery.
No. 456. Madonna and Child.
Executed for the Convent of S. Lucia, now suppressed. Prof. Marquand attributes this relief to Luca. Miss Cruttwell considers it Andrea's work. The figures are white on a blue ground; the eyes are blue-gray with violet pupils.
The Madonna's head is disproportionately large, and the position awkward, but the naturalness of the child and the intimacy of mother and child have great charm.
No. 457. Tomb of Bishop Federighi.
S. Trinità, Florence.
Marble, with faience border. This tomb of the bishop of Fiesole was executed by Luca in 1455-1456. It was removed to S. Trinità in 1896.
The recumbent figure of the bishop is full of dignity and repose. The graceful angels on the sarcophagus resemble those by Ghiberti on the shrine of St. Zenobius. The three figures in relief on the panels, representing the Pietà, are disturbing elements, and awkward in themselves.
The border, nine inches wide, is a mosaic of enameled terra-cotta, rich colors upon a gold ground, in a floral pattern of varying design. It is very beautiful in itself, though its appropriateness may be questioned.
No. 458. Ascension of Christ.
This lunette and its companion piece, the Resurrection, placed above the Sacristy doors of the Cathedral, are among Luca's earliest work in glazed terra-cotta, 1443-1450. The figures are creamy white on a blue ground, the trees and mountain green, the rays of glory golden.
Study the composition and its adaptation to the frame; the faces and forms; the types chosen by Luca; the value of the trees and suggestion of landscape.
No. 459. Meeting of St. Francis and St. Dominic.
Loggia di S. Paolo, Florence.
The Hospital of S. Paolo stands on the Piazza of S. Maria Novella. Beneath the loggia are terra-cotta medallions and reliefs with the dates 1451, 1495, the period of reconstruction. They are unglazed, the faces left in the natural color of the terra-cotta. Miss Cruttwell attributes this lunette to Andrea, though " worthy of Luca himself."
This representation of the meeting of the founders of monastic orders which were keen rivals in the fifteenth century may have had local significance. As a composition, in the simple handling of the draperies, above all in its spirit, this lunette deserves a high place in Italian sculpture, even though wrought in a less noble material.
No. 460. Madonna and Child.
Terra-cotta lunette from the church of S. Piero di Buonconsiglio, known as S. Pierino, torn down when the Mercato Vecchio was demolished. An early work by Luca, possibly 1430-1440. The figures are glazed, white against a blue background, the floral wreath is of white lilies and roses with foliage in shades of green. A similar one from the Via del Agnolo is also in the Bargello.
Compare with the figures of the Cantoria and with those of the Ascension. Study the sentiment of all the figures, the composition of the group as a whole.
No. 461. Bust of a Child.
Sometimes called Giovannino, the youthful St. John. It suggests rather a portrait. The eyebrows are slightly colored, the eyes in tones of yellow.
Study in connection with other pictures for Andrea's interpretation of child character.
No. 462. Mary Magdalen: St. Anthony.
Cloister, Certosa, Val d'Ema.
Decorating the spaces between the arches in the cloister court of the Carthusian monastery near Florence are sixty-seven heads of saints and martyrs in glazed terra-cotta. They were commissioned in 1522. Most are probably studio work. The Magdalen is among the best. They illustrate the varied forms of decoration in terra-cotta.
Consider the differences of technique in marble and terra-cotta work; the advantages for outdoor decoration; the propriety of such an arrangement of heads.
No. 463. Madonna and Child with Saints.
Lunette over the principal door, in glazed terra-cotta, white on blue ground. The saints are Lawrence and Stephen. One of Andrea's most characteristic works. 1489.
Compare with 460, noting distinguishing characteristics of Luca and Andrea.
No. 464. Madonna and Child.
Tabernacle in glazed terra-cotta known as the Madonna of the Architects, executed for the Masters in Stone and Wood, whose symbols are in the frame below. The figures are very carefully enameled, ivory white on a blue ground. The frame is rather coarse in workmanship.
Notice Andrea's repetition of the Child with his finger in his mouth. Compare with 463. Consider the various methods of framing.
Nos. 465-466. Bambini.
Between the arches of the portico extending along the façade of the Spedale degli Innocenti, or Foundling Hospital, of Florence, are these wellknown medallions of children in swaddling clothes. They are among Andrea's earliest work, about 1463-1466. Glazed, white on blue ground, occasionally with colored garments.
The beauty and dependence of childhood, the appeal of the outstretched arms, the appropriateness of the subject and its treatment combine to give this work a universal quality independent of time or place or nation. Of how many works of art can this be said?
No. 467. Visitation.
S. Giovanni Fuorcivitas, Pistoja.
Life size group in glazed terra-cotta, long ascribed to Fra Paolino, a local artist. Marquand has discovered a document of 1445 which bequeaths the oil for a perpetual light to be kept burning before this group; he therefore attributes it to Luca. Burckhardt describes it as " the most beautiful group of the Renaissance." It is the only group in the round in Robbia ware.
The sculptural quality both of the composition and of the figures as such removes all sense of fragility of material; the characterization is simple and direct; the inner spirit is deeply emotional with no display or self consciousness.
No. 468. Nativity.
Executed for the Council of S. Girolamo delle Poverini in 1521. Signed by Giovanni. Coarsely glazed and brilliantly colored with an attempt at naturalistic effect.
Compare with work by Luca and Andrea, and consider the reasons for such a development as this.
No. 469. Feeding the Hungry.
Ospedale del Ceppo, Pistoja.
Extending across the front of the loggia of the hospital at Pistoja is a frieze in terra-cotta representing the seven works of mercy, alternating with single figures of the Virtues. The different reliefs have each a different color scheme. The work of two artists is evident. Giovanni's work of 1525–1529 is robust, even coarse, while his assistant shows mannerisms like those of Filippino Lippi's latest period.
Compare with the Nativity, noting the greater originality and opportunity for fresh interest in the work for the hospital.