Luca Della Robbia - Doubtful Works In Various Towns Of Italy
( Originally Published 1908 )
Aquila (Abruzzi). Church of S. Bernardino.—Few historians and critics have mentioned this altar-piece of Robbia ware, which Charles Perkins attributes to Luca, and which, according to Leosini, was brought from Florence by Oliva Vetusti for their family chapel. In the lower part the Lord is represented rising from the tomb, with saints on each side, and soldiers sleeping on the ground. In the upper part our Lord, seated, places a crown on the head of the Virgin. Her attitude is very graceful. Four groups of adoring angels compose the central group. In the predella are four bas-reliefs representing the " Nativity," the " Annunciation," the "Epiphany," and the " Presentation." The figures are white on a blue background. " The style," writes Perkins, "is of singular purity, and resembles that of Raphael under Perugino's influence. The composition of the upper group is very like the painting of the same subject by Raphael in the Vatican."
Asciano, Val d' Elsa. Church of S. Francis.—Bronguiart and a few others give to Luca the attribution of this retable, with life-size figures of the Madonna holding on her knees the Infant Christ. On both sides are the figures of S. Tobias and S. Christopher.
Badia Tedalda. Church of S. Michele.—Cavallucci and Molinier mention this retable as Luca's in their book, " Della Robbia." The Virgin is seated on a throne holding the infant Jesus on her knees. At her side are standing S. Jerome, S. Benoit, S. Michele, and Leonard. The figures are in white enamel. On bot sides of the retable, let into the wall, are the figures c the holy Virgin and the angel Gabriel.
Barga. Church of S. Francesco.—The numerous terra cotta monuments at Barga have been much discussed Local tradition proudly attributes them to Luca ; bu except the altar-piece in the Church of S. Francesco all are too similar to Andrea's and Giovanni's work! not to be attributed to them. In the altar-piece which represents the " Nativity," the figures of S. Francis and S. Jerome, and especially the Virgin and Child, be-token the superior hand and style of Luca. The lovely coronal of cherubs' heads is most noteworthy, and the whole altar-piece is of exquisite handicraft.
Barga. Duomo. — The tabernacle has often been mentioned as a work of Luca.
Biella.—Signor Angelo Genolini describes, in his book, "Maioliche Italiane," a most precious and interesting bas-relief which was sold to Commendatore Quintino Sella as a genuine work of Luca's. It represents the Madonna with the Holy Infant lying on straw, with angels hovering in the air. The straw is of greenish yellow, and the bundle of hay of bright green. On the back of the bas-relief there is the following inscription surrounded with blue : 1428. "L. R. F. A." It is the only work of Luca s on which are found a date and a signature, but no documents attest its origin. During Commendatore Quintino Sella's life it decorated his house in Rome, and after his death was taken by his family to Biella, where it is still on view.
Cavriglia, near Castelfranco di Sopra. — In several guide-books a piece of Robbia ware is mentioned under Luca's name.
Citta di Castello. Museum.—All modern critics reject as Luca's work this " Assumption." In the past it was attributed to him. The groups of the Apostles are disposed with great symmetry ; but the details of the bas-relief are the most interesting part of it.
Gallicano. Over a fountain in the street.—According to Professor Allan Marquand this medallion, representing the "Madonna and Child," is a copy of the unglazed "Madonna" of the Berlin Museum.
Gallicano. Church of S. Giacomo.—This splendid bas-relief in the Church of S. Giacomo is attributed to Giovanni della Robbia by recent critics ; but by earlier critics it was held to have come from Luca's atelier.
Gavinana, near S. Marcello Pistojese. Piere di S. Maria. — Legend and tradition have taught the in-habitants of Gavinana to look on this exquisite tabernacle as an offering of Luca himself to their church, and they refuse to admit that they may be a production of his nephews or his scholars.
Genoa. Palazzo Bianco. — Those critics who give reasons for attributing to Luca the magnificent bas-relief of the Osservanza near Siena, must feel equally inclined to assign to him the " Coronation of the Virgin," in the Palazzo Bianco, as the composition and execution of the two works are nearly identical. It is wreathed by a garland of fruit, and was, no doubt, formerly an altar-piece.
Lucca. Provincial Palace.—Professor Enrico Ridolfi, who is known to be most conscientious in his archaeological researches, has put under Luca's name two figures of children, larger than life, in glazed ename terra-cotta. They were found in a convent of Dominicans. It is probable that they were a portion of a large monument.
Lucca. S. Frediano.—In 1843 a Robbia monument was placed in this church. The author of the monument itself is most uncertain ; but the style and delicate execution of the frieze lead us to suppose, with Professor Enrico Ridolfi, that we can ascribe it to Luca.
Lucca. Church of S. Concordio.—The busts of S. Concordio and S. Epimaco have been judged by Professor Ridolfi to be by Luca.
Lucca. Marchese Mazzarosa.—The Marchese Mazza-rosa has in his possession a Madonna which is a lovely example of Luca's devout feeling. As usual, opinions are most contradictory on its authorship.
Loreto. In the Church of Loreto.—On one of the sacristy doors in the Church of Loreto is to be seen the half figure of S. Luke ; over the other door, the figure of S. Matthew. They have been mentioned by Moroni and others as Luca's.
Messina. Church of the Madonna della Scala.—In this church there is a bas-relief locally denominated " The Madonna delle Frutta." It is a work of much sweetness. The Holy Mother is of a young and lovely type, and worthy of the great master's hand ; but the expression of the Infant is rather dissimilar to the other models of Luca. Every head of the coronal of cherubs, eight in number, is different in appearance, and every one is of rare perfection. We find in the wreath of fruit which encircles it the pine-cones, apples, pomegranates, grapes, and chestnuts with their foliage, which Luca always preferred. How this bas-relief; hardly ever mentioned by travellers or art students, ever came to Messina is a mystery.
Montepulciano. Oratory of the Misericordia.—This [bas-relief frames a picture, and represents adoring angels in groups. It is a work of rare perfection, but experts differ about it. Some look on it as one of Andrea's best works, while others attribute it to Luca.
Palermo. Civic Museum.—Alinari and the guide-books take the responsibility of attributing to Luca this Madonna with Child and Angels ; others hesitate to assign it to him.
Pesaro. Museum.—In the collection of Majolica, the head of a warrior has been judged by Anselmo Anselmi to be Luca's work, on account of its similarity to the sleeping guards of a bas - relief in the Cathedral in Florence.
Prato. Church of the Madonna delle Carceri.—Barbet de Jouy attributes to Luca the frieze which ornaments the interior of the church. It is composed of tiles of glazed enamelled terra-cotta of a pale blue colour. A garland of flowers enwreaths a shield bestrewn with fleur-de-lis on a blue background.
Four large medallions decorate the ceiling, on each of which are represented the figure of an Evangelist with his symbol. These figures are white on a blue ground. All recent art critics trace Andrea's hand in these bas-reliefs, and find in them an inferior imitation of the Evangelists of the Pazzi Chapel.
Pistoja. Church of S. Giovanni Fuorcivitas.—In this church there is a splendid group of the Holy Virgin and S. Elizabeth (" The Visitation "). We owe a most interesting study of it to Mr. Allan Marquand, who writes as follows :—" When I examined this group in 1892, I noticed that the eyes of both the Virgin and S. Elizabeth had irises of greyish-blue. As I have already noticed, this is a characteristic of Luca's Madonnas, while Andrea's have hazel eyes. An attribution, however, based upon a single characteristic such as this would certainly be hazardous. We may substantiate our claim that Luca is the author by appealing to its general spirit. We have not far to go to find parallels which enable us not only to attribute the group to the elder Luca, but also to assign it to the decade, 1430-1440. If we turn to that one of the choir gallery reliefs, in which is represented a group of maidens singing and playing instruments, we shall find, to the extreme left, one whose face is but a little younger type of this Madonna whose drapery falls in similar folds. We may also observe in other Madonnas that the hair is modelled in wavy lines, and is drawn back in a mass to conceal the ear. At this time also, Luca made several Madonnas whose garments show not only the broad band, but even the ruffle about the neck. Are not these resemblances strong enough to justify us in bringing this important group into line with the Madonnas of Luca della Robbia." A fire in 1586 destroyed a great portion of the " Archivio di S. Jacopo," so we have few documents to prove the authenticity of any of the Robbian monuments in Pistoja.
Pistoja. Hospital of Pistoja.—Professor Contrucci, in his book, " Monumento Robbiano nella Loggia dello Spedale di Pistoja," suggests that the designs for the açade of the Hospital were probably made in Luca della Robbia's studio, but the monument was not executed until a much later date. Owing to a long period of vicissitudes, Pistoja was unable to raise the money for the execution of these decorations ordered from Luca. It was only when the Hospital passed into the hands of the Florentines that the work was carried out, but we find in it none of the characteristics of the great master's hands. Begun by the Robbia family, it was finished by Filippo Paladini of Pistoja.
Pescia. Cathedral.-A figure of S. John in glazed enamel terra-cotta passes as Luca's work.
Pescia. Chapel in the Bishop's Palace.—A bas-relief representing the Madonna with S. Biagio and S. Jacopo was formerly in the Church of S. Peter. In 1784 it was saved from a fire and transferred to this Chapel. It has been mentioned as Lucas.
Pisa. Monte di Pieta.—A " Christ," locally attributed to Luca della Robbia.
Rimini. Temple of the Malatesta, at present the Cathedral.—Most critics of the present date put among the mis-statements of his biographer (Vasari) that Luca della Robbia ever went to Rimini. He certainly did not go at the age of fifteen, as Vasari writes; but in 1447, when Leo Battista Alberti built for Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta the temple of S. Francesca di Rimini, it is likely that Luca, then forty-seven years of age, was called to decorate this temple, especially as Donatello and Michelozzo had preceded him, and they often worked in partnership. The monuments attributed to Luca consist of allegorical figures of life-size in low relief.
They represent a Temple, out of which arises the symbol of Pallas surrounded by the heroes of the Malatesta family. The other bas-relief represents Sigismondo Malatesta seated on a chariot drawn by four horses and preceded by prisoners. "For pure and earnest sentiment and truth to nature, they deserve to rank with the noblest treasures of Italian art, and give a far higher idea of Luca's genius than can be gathered from his works in terra-cotta."
Rome. Vatican Library. — Barbet de Jouy and Perkins place among Luca's works, " The Virgin with the Infant Saviour" in the Vatican Library. The Child rests His left hand on His Holy Mother's arm and in His right holds an apple. The reliefs are white on a blue ground. They are beautifully modelled. The coronals are gilded.
Rocca, near Assisi. Church of S. M. degli Angeli.—In the centre of the retable is the "Coronation of the Virgin," on the sides are " S. Francis " and " S. Jerome." In the lower part on the predella are the "Annunciation," the "Nativity," and the "Adoration of the Magi." In the "Guide to the Monuments existing in the Province of Umbria," Mariano Guardabassi has catalogued these as works of Luca della Robbia.
Siena (near). Church of the Osservanza.— Perkins, Leader Scott, Henri de la Borde, L. Bevir, and many others have ascribed to Luca della Robbia the splendid altar-piece of the Osservanza : "The Virgin sits surrounded by cherubs and angels with instruments of music in their hands. Below are represented S. John, S. Francis, S. Bernardino of Siena, and S. Catherine of Siena, with a lovely figure of the donor."
The predella is composed of three bas - reliefs representing the " Annunciation," the "Birth of our Lord," and the " Assumption of the Virgin." " It is simple in composition, and as full of sentiment as a Fra Angelico. The whole work bespeaks the master's hand." The monks of the convent at the end of the last century replaced the Robbias existing in the church by the pictures that are now on the altar ; but the Malavolti, to whom this "Coronation of the Virgin" belonged, refused to have it touched.
Stia. Province of Arezzo. Palazzo Comunale.—T here is a lovely Madonna and Child which in many particulars is very similar to the Madonna of S. M. Nuova, especially in the attitude of the Child holding a bird in its hands. Those who attribute to Luca the Madonna of the Hospital must also attribute to him the Madonna of Stia.
Verna. Principal Church.—The " Adoration of the Infant Jesus" is a work much contested as Luca's, and now goes under Andrea's name. If not his own, his direct influence is evident in the production of this chef - d'oeuvre. The simple attitude of the adoring Mother has the stamp of the great master's hand, and even those who now reject it as his, must have hesitated before attributing it to Andrea.
It is with great reserve that I make known a suspicion shared with many friends in Italy, that at the time when the convents and confraternities were being suppressed in 1867, and even before and afterwards, numerous bas-reliefs, altar-pieces, lunettes, and original shrines of Luca della Robbia were smuggled out of the land and replaced by good facsimiles.
Owing, also, to the financial embarrassments of the possessors of many marvellous treasures wrought by the della Robbias and their scholars, these have found their way out of Italy. Museums and private collections in Europe and America have been enriched with heirlooms of noble Italian families. It is noted that the same productions, which at the present day would fetch enormous sums in the art market, were sold some years ago for ridiculous prices. Two bas-reliefs, one mentioned by Padre Richa as Luca's work, and another of the Robbia school, were purchased from a convent in Florence for 2500 francs about thirty years ago.