Luca Della Robbia – Unauthenticated Works In Florence

IN the Church of SS. Apostoli there is a tabernacle in the chapel of the Accajuoli family that many authors assign to Luca, among them Bocchi, Del Migliore, Padre Richa, Domenico Moreni, Gargiolli, Van Rumohr, Bulgarini, Fantozzi, and Rio, the last named describing it as follows :—” This tabernacle is of exquisite taste. Considering the general design and the details of decoration, it is impossible not to consider it the work of Luca, and even one of his best works, if it was not for the heavy garland placed on both sides which reveals a less skilful hand than the one which executed the figure of God the Father and the two angels. On this tabernacle are still seen traces of gold, and we know that Luca often embellished his productions in this manner. It is probable that the uncle and nephew executed the work together, but some authors ascribe it to Giovanni della Robbia.”

The lavabo in Santa Maria Novella is ascribed to Luca by Perkins, Follini, Fantozzi, Burci, and Fanfani. Modern critics give their reasons for assigning it to Giovanni, and mention a document as to it bearing the date of 1497. This elegant lavabo has the form of a small monument. The lunette represents the Madonna and Infant Jesus with two adoring angels. In the upper part two nude figures bear a heavy garland. The pillars are ornamented with very fine reliefs, and a portion of the background is covered with tiles of glazed enamel on which is a painting representing the sea. As in the tabernacle of SS. Apostoli, the heavy garland reveals an inferior talent. Padre Vincenzo Fineschi asserts that this lavabo was a gift of the Florentine Republic to the Church of S. M. Novella.

The series of medallions on the Piazza S. M. Novella represent Christ healing the sick, S. Ludovic, S. Louis, S. Chiara, S. Rosa, S. Bernardino, S. Anthony, and S. Francis. The medallion at the end corner of Via dei Fossi was supposed to represent Luca della Robbia’s portrait, the one at the other end Andrea’s effigy. The first bears the date of 1451, the other 1491. These eight medallions preserve under the glaze, much covered with dust, so much grace and intensity of expression, that we may certainly trace in them many characteristics of Luca’s hand. He must have begun the work, which was finished after his death by Andrea. Under the portico the bas-relief with the figures of S. Francis and S. Dominic are of rare beauty. It was placed there to commemorate the meeting of the two saints. Vasari mentions the medallions of S. M. Novella as “assai buoni.”

The lunette over the door of S. Jacopo di Ripoli, Via della Scala, is a fine specimen of Robbia ware. The subject is the Madonna with S. Dominic on one side and a saint on the other, surrounded by a beautiful garland of fruit. The treatment of this relief differs from most of the works of Luca. The Child lies on His side, and is not so lovely as in other representations ; “but the Virgin and saints are grand and statuesque’ (” Walks in Florence,” S. and J. Horner). Padre Richa Follini, Perkins, Cavallucci and Molinier, Gargiolli, Leader Scott, and Lastri are all agreed in attributing this work to Luca.

The lunette over the door of the Church of Ognissanti represents the Coronation of the Virgin amongst angels, some singing, some playing different instruments. A little lower are represented the half figures, all in a line, of S. Benoit, a martyr, S. John the Baptist, S. Peter, S. Gregory, S. Augustine, and S. Lucy. The attribution of this bas-relief has been discussed by numerous critics, and among them by Bocchi, Follini, Abate Bulgarini, Padre Richa, Gargiolli, Perkins, Fantozzi, Henri de la Borde, S. Erskine Clement, who all assign it to Luca.

In the Chapel of the Misericordia there is, behind the altar, a rectangular bas-relief that Rumohr and other authors have assigned to Luca. Biadi, in 1824, wrote that it was put up in the place of a statue of Giotto’s. This bas-relief represents the Virgin sitting’ down contemplating with infinite tenderness the Infant Saviour. S. Cosimo and S. Damiano occupy each side of the holy group. God the Father is figured in the clouds, holding a tablet on which are inscribed the first and last letter of the Greek alphabet. Two angels are by His side. The predella is divided into three parts, of very small proportions, representing the ” Annunciation,” the ” Nativity,” and the ” Adoration of the Kings.” These reliefs are white on a blue ground. The vestments are bordered with gold. This retable was much damaged in the effort to reduce it to the proportions of the altar. It came from the Badia of Fiesole, and was placed in 1812 in the Chapel of the Misericordia.

The bambini or “swaddled children” of the Hospital of the Innocenti, Piazza SS. Annunziata, were begun at the period when Luca and Andrea della Robbia worked together. They go under Andrea’s name ; but the influence and guidance of Luca is most evident, and he deserves his share of honour and glory for the exquisite execution of these lovely infants. Andrea was thirty-four years of age at the time when they were finished (1471), and though he had given proofs of his talent, it is not likely that he could have attained such perfection without Luca’s direction. A strange particularity concerning these bambini is that the male ones are partly wrapped up, whilst the female infants are entirely swaddled.

I do not think that it has yet been brought to natice that four of these reliefs are not the work of any of the della Robbia family. When the façade of the Hospital of the Innocenti was lengthened in 1842-1845, the medallions over the new arches were executed at the Ginori fabbrica at Doccia, near Florence, and were copied from the original medallions of Luca. It is suggested that they must have been studies for model groups of angels in other works.

Near the entrance of the church, within the cloister of the Hospital 6f the Innocenti, is a most lovely relief representing the ” Annunciation.” The angel, with rapt look, bends reverently before the meek and lovely Virgin. A vase of lilies is between them, and a garland of cherub heads, beautiful and varied in their infantile expression, surrounds the group. This relief was made for the Pugliesi Chapel. Most modern art critics, owing to its general characteristics, attribute it to Andrea della Robbia, while Perkins, Gargiolli, Marcotti, and Dr. Francesco Bruni, the author of a book on the Hospital degli Innocenti, are inclined to assign it to Luca.

Baron von Rumohr, Cavallucci and Molinier, Fantozzi, and Baedeker attribute to Luca the bas-relief behind the altar in the Church of S. Egidio, in the Hospital of S. M. Nuova. Modern critics place it among Andrea’s best works. The Infant Saviour is in His holy Mother’s arms. He holds a bird in His hand, as in the bas-reliefs of S. Croce, the Madonna of Or San Michele, and the Madonna at Stia, all of which are assigned by competent critics to Luca.

In the gallery of the Hospital of S. M. Nuova was to be seen till a very short time ago a small but exquisite bas – relief representing the Madonna and Child. In the inventory of the Hospital it was noted as a genuine work of Luca della Robbia, of great value.

Few art historians or guide-books have mentioned the bas-relief in the Church of San Gaetano. M. Marcel Reymond shows an evident hesitation in as-signing its authorship. It is such an exquisite work, that it is worthy of the great master. Objections are made that the hands above the Madonna, emblem of the Holy Trinity, and the dove, emblem of the Holy Ghost, are often repeated by Andrea in his productions ; but may it not also be probable that the nephew imitated this particularity of the uncle, and also the one of placing a bird in the Infant Saviour’s hand.

As there is no documentary evidence, the serious inquirer must judge for himself, and must especially admire the heavenly sweetness of the Madonna. It is indeed a pity that this interesting bas-relief is placed in a subterranean chapel, and can only be examined by artificial light.

Some authors have considered the bas-relief over the door of S. Lucia de’ Magnoli as one of Luca’s first productions. Santa Lucia is represented in it with a lamp, and appears in the character given to her by Dante, the type of celestial light and wisdom ” (” Sacred and Legendary Art,” Mrs. Jameson).

Two statues of nearly life – like size, representing S. Bernardino, the other S. Francis, are in Santa Croce, in the Chapel of the Holy Sacrament. Many art critics have attributed them to Luca della Robbia.

In the sacristy of Santa Croce is a head of the Saviour, beautifully modelled, of which the glaze enamel is very fine and brilliant, but we have no authentic record about it. Most of the documents on the works of art in Santa Croce were taken to Paris by Napoleon, and others were destroyed by an inundation of the river Arno.

The retable of the Medici Chapel of Santa Croce represents the Madonna and Child surrounded by cherubim. Angels crown the Mother and Infant Christ. To the right are S. John the Baptist and S. Elizabeth, with her lap full of roses ; to the left, S. Lawrence, S. Francis and a bishop. A graceful floral design is on the pilasters. The cherub heads project on a back-ground of blue, and are most delicately modelled. The attitude of the Infant Saviour, blessing with His left hand, while in His right He holds a bird, has so much resemblance to the Madonna of Or San Michele and other bas-reliefs attributed to Luca, that it has perhaps led some authors to assign this retable to him. Underneath we read the following inscription :

Questa opa a facta fare la compagnia di Castel San Giovanni pel anima de’ benefattori e operatori di detta compagnia.

In the same chapel there is a small bas-relief of the Madonna and Child, which goes under Luca’s name, excluding, however, the frame.

The lunette over the door represents a ” Pietà,” which has sometimes been mentioned as a work of Luca. We give the authorship to him with due reserve.

There is in the chapel belonging formerly to the Baldi family, and now in the possession of the Canigiani, a bas-relief attributed to Luca by Fantozzi, Moise Burci, Fanfani, and Grant Allen, etc. It represents the ” Madonna del Carmine.” The chapel is open to the public only once in the year (in August). The key is kept by the Canigiani family in Via dei Bardi.

Above the door of the Convent of Ognissanti there is a small glazed enamel terra-cotta placed by the Franciscan monks, which belonged to the Medici. This lunette represents the arms of the Medici, with an inscription wishing Duke Alessandro a long life. It must have come out of Luca’s studio. Padre Richa mentions it in his ” Chiese Florentine.”