Works Of Luca And Andrea Della Robbia


THE earliest known work by Luca della Robbia is the world-renowned `Singing Gallery’ (cantoria), executed in 1431-40 for the Cathedral of Florence, to be placed over one of the doors of the sacristy; Donatello being commissioned two years later to make a corresponding gallery for a similar position over an opposite door. Both Donatello’s and Luca’s galleries are now in the Museum of the Cathedral.

“Luca’s work,” writes Dr. Bode, “exhibits in ten reliefs groups of youths and maidens of different ages, singing in chorus, playing upon musical instruments, or dancing hand in hand. The variety in the composition, the diversity of the types, the entirely naturalistic rendering of the expressions of the youthful singers and musicians, each in accordance with his voice or instrument, the rich and yet perfectly simple arrangement made possible by the classic style of high relief, and the finished execution of this work in marble, would ensure it a place among the masterpieces of the Renaissance even were it not for the beauty of the forms and grace of the movements which have given it its popularity.”

“Among those dancing children and players upon musical instruments,” writes Perkins, “there is one group of choristers whose music has gone out unto the ends of the world. Who that has listened to the shrill treble, the rich contralto, the luscious tenor, and the sonorous bass has failed to feel with the poet when looking upon another `marble brede of men and maidens,’ that `heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter’?”

“Luca’s organ gallery still remains the finest and most characteristic of his achievements,” writes Cosmo Monkhouse. “It appears to have been the only opportunity that he had of displaying his gifts with perfect, or almost perfect, freedom. He had no tradition to follow, no archaic type or ecclesiastical model to which he must conform. The love of nature and his sense of art were his only guides, and he produced these lovely reliefs, in which observation and fancy were regulated by classical feeling, in a manner before unknown and scarcely equalled since. For once in that age the artist was emancipated.”


ONE of the most beautiful of the numerous fifteenth-century tombs of Tuscany is that of Benozzo Federighi, Bishop of Fiesole. In the year 1455, some five years after the death of the bishop, Luca della Robbia en-gaged to execute this monument in marble, and according to the official register, it was completed before 1457.

Cavalucci and Molinier regard it as a transition between the works of Luca in marble and those in terra-cotta, and consider that in this, one of his very greatest creations, the artist has most happily combined the art of the sculptor proper and that of the worker in majolica. In describing it Professor Middleton writes: “A very beautiful effigy of the bishop, in a restful pose, lies on a sarcophagus sculptured with graceful reliefs of angels holding a wreath which contains the inscription. Above are three-quarter length figures of Christ between St. John and the Virgin, delicately carved in low relief. The whole is surrounded by a rectangular frame formed of painted majolica tiles of the most exquisite beauty. On each tile is painted, with enamel pigments, a bunch of flowers and fruit in brilliant realistic colors, the loveliness of which is very hard to describe. The perfect mean between truth to nature and decorative treatment has never been more thoroughly obtained than in these wonderful tile pictures, which are of special interest as being among the earliest examples of Italian majolica.”


OVER the door of a small shop in a narrow by-street of Florence is set a beautiful relief representing the Virgin—”here wholly human, and we love her none the less for that reason”—with the infant Saviour, who holds a scroll upon which are inscribed the words “EGO SUM LUX MUNDI,” while on each side is a lovely angel bearing a vase filled with lilies. The whole is surrounded by an exquisitely wrought garland of flowers, tinted in various pale colors. There is no question that this lunette is Luca della Robbia’s handiwork. The date which should be assigned to it is, however, uncertain. Dr. Bode has placed it before 1431, Professor Marquand dates it as between 1430 and 1440, and Reymond considers it as a still later work, dating about 1450.

“It seems strange,” writes Marquand, “that this Madonna does not occur again in Luca’s work. Her face perhaps modified his angel type, but as a Madonna she disappears. After this burst of realistic inspiration, in which he may have portrayed the features of some living woman, he returns to a type more along the old lines, to which he adheres, more or less closely, in all his later works.”


IN a dimly lighted niche over one of the altars of the old Church of San Giovanni fuorcivitas, Pistoja, is placed this life-sized group, in white enamelled terra-cotta. It has frequently been ascribed to Fra Paola, a Pistojan painter, who, however, is not known to have worked in sculpture. Cavalucci, Gsell-Fels, and Marcel Reymond attribute it to Andrea della Robbia, while Professor Marquand and Dr. Bode (who calls it “the most perfect group of the early Renaissance”) pronounce it without hesitation the work of Luca.

“Its exquisite loveliness will Jong be remembered by those who have seen it,” writes Bianciardi. “Elizabeth has rushed to meet the Virgin and thrown herself on her knees. Her upturned face and parted lips betoken the excitement of joyful surprise tempered by humility and awe. `Whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?’ Mary, on the contrary, is calm and dignified. Her slight figure is almost erect, and her right hand rests on the shoulder of Elizabeth. Her face is very noble and pure in its outlines. She has not yet spoken, but her answer to Elizabeth’s salutation is already framed within her heart.”


THE medallions of bambini, or infants in swaddling-clothes (two of which are shown in our plate), from the façade of the Foundling Hospital in Florence, are among the first works executed by Andrea della Robbia alone. Cavalucci and Molinier consider them to date from about 1463, when Andrea was but twenty-eight years old, and Luca was still alive.

“They are the simplest of all Andrea’s works,” writes Reymond, “and those which show Luca’s influence most, and it is not unlikely that the elder master here advised and counselled his young nephew. It is not improbable that it was Luca who pointed out how effective this repetition of the same motive in successive medallions might be made, and the interest that might be derived from presenting the same idea again and again in varying forms; for, accomplished artist as Andrea must have been at this time (and Luca’s will makes it clear that in 1471 his nephew was already renowned), the masterly simplicity of the charming conception of decorating the façade of a hospital for foundlings by a series of medallions, each enclosing one little swaddled child, must have been due to a master thoroughly familiar with all the re-sources of his especial art.”

“These delightful little foundlings,” write Cavalucci and Molinier, “who by their gestures seem to invoke our aid and pity, combine in the most decorative way to adorn the loggia. The white enamel of their flesh, and the swaddling-bands, occasionally tinted with brown, relieved against the bright blue of the backgrounds, form cheerful notes against the sombre tones of the wall. Perhaps these bambini are the best known of Andrea’s works, and they fully deserve their popularity.”


ONE of Andrea della Robbia’s latest and most perfect works, this bas-relief depicts a meeting between the founders of the two great monkish orders, St. Francis and St. Dominic. In the expression of the faces (which Andrea left without enamel in order that the finer lines might not be obscured), in the treatment of the draperies, which recall those of Fra Bartolommeo or Raphael, and in the carving of the hands, the work is unsurpassed. “It may be counted,” write Cavalucci and Molinier, “as among the very best productions of the Della Robbia family, and has all the simplicity and dignity of the works of Luca himself. Andrea was rarely able to produce so great an effect with so simple a motive. The movement of St. Francis as he hastens into St. Dominic’s outstretched arms, the effective contrast between the two costumes, the care with which the heads are modelled, and the depth and fineness of the expressions render this bas-relief, as a whole, a veritable masterpiece.”


THIS exquisitely decorative lunette, with its white figures relieved against a blue ground, was by the elder critics considered as Luca della Robbia’s work; but modern authorities (with the exception of Dr. Bode, who has recently changed his opinion in favor of Giovanni della Robbia) are practically unanimous in considering it as Andrea’s handiwork, and Cavalucci and Molinier regard the angel in particular, which is more graceful than any of Luca’s figures and yet without that insipidity which marks the later work of the school, as being “as good as a signature by Andrea.” They go on to say: “This subject, although a very common one in the works of the Della Robbias, has never been treated with greater loveliness or charm. Demanding little skill in composition, and eminently fitted to exhibit skill in handling the processes of bas-relief, it was eminently suited to Andrea’s graceful talent.”


IN the little church belonging to the suppressed Franciscan monastery of the Osservanza, outside the walls of Siena, may be seen this `Coronation of the Virgin,’ one of the most celebrated and most beautiful of the works of Andrea della Robbia. The figures are white upon a blue ground, no other color being used, with the exception of delicate touches of gold in the drapery of the angels and in the pattern of the Virgin’s robe. Upon the predella are represented the `Annunciation,’ the `Assumption,’ and the `Nativity.’

Marcel Reymond calls this `Coronation’ “one of the masterpieces of Italian art,” and says : “In the tenderness of its sentiment Fra Angelico alone can here be compared with Andrea della Robbia. The charm and poetry of the composition are indescribable—the affectionate gesture of God the Father, the Virgin’s look of joy and humility, and the science with which the group of angels is arranged around her kneeling figure, and the expressions of ecstasy and love transfiguring the faces of St. Jerome and St. Francis of Assisi.”


THIS relief, which stands above the door of the Cathedral of Prato, is one of the loveliest of Andrea della Robbia’s works, and bears the date 1489. It was for long, and even at Prato, considered to be by Luca, but critics are now unanimous in assigning it to his nephew.

The Madonna, with the Christ-child on her arm, stands between the martyred saints, St. Stephen on her right, and St. Lawrence on her left. The Child carries his finger to his mouth,—a characteristic action to be found in almost all Andrea’s representations of the Child at the period when this work was executed.

“The relief is especially remarkable,” says Reymond, “for the tender loveliness of the Virgin’s expression, and the beautiful figures of the accompanying saints. The excellence of the draperies, too, should be noticed. They show more complication than in Andrea’s previous works, yet without losing anything of his perfection of handling.”


ENGLAND. LONDON, SOUTH KENSINGTON MUSEUM: Coat of Arms of King René of Anjou —FRANCE. PARIS, CLUNY MUSEUM: Justice and Temperance (medallions)—PARIS, LOUVRE: Virgin and Six Angels; Virgin and Four Saints—PARts, COLLECTION OF M. FouLc: Adoring Madonna—GERMANY. BERLIN MUSEUM: Madonna and Angels; Madonna (5)— ITALY. FLORENCE, CAMPANILE: Five marble bas-reliefs —FLORENCE, CATHEDRAL: Resurrection; Ascension; Sacristy Doors; Two Angels—FLORENCE, MUSEUM OF THE CATHEDRAL: Singing Gallery; God the Father; Madonna and Child—FLORENCE, HOSPITAL OF THE INNOCENTI: Madonna and Child— FLORENCE, NATIONAL MUSEUM: Deliverance of St. Peter; Crucifixion of St. Peter; Madonna of San Pierino; Madonna of the Roses; Madonna of the Apple; Adoring Ma-donna; Madonna and Child (2)—FLORENCE, CHURCH OF OR SAN MICHELE: Four medallions—FLORENCE, CHURCH OF SANTA CROCE, PAZZI CHAPEL: Evangelists and Apostles —FLORENCE, QUARATESI PALACE: Coat of Arms (2)—FLORENCE, CHURCH OF SANTA TRINPTÀ: Tomb of Bishop Benozzo Federighi — FLORENCE, VIA DELL’ AGNOLO: Madonna and Child—FLORENCE, COLLECTION OF MARCHESE CARLO VIVIANI DELLA ROBBIA: Virgin and Child—IMPRUNETA, COLLEGIATE CHURCH: Two Tabernacles; Crucifixion—PERETOLA, CHURCH OF SANTA MARIA: Tabernacle—PISTOJA, CHURCH OF SAN GIOVANNI FUORCIVITAS: The Visitation —SAN MINIATO, CHURCH: Ceiling of the Chapel of the Crucifix; Ceiling of the Chapel of the Cardinal of Portugal—URBINO, CHURCH OF SAN DOMENICO: Madonna and Child—UNITED STATES. BOSTON, COLLECTION OF ‘QUINCY A. SHAW, EsQ.: Madonna and Child—NEw YORK, METROPOLITAN MUSEUM: Madonna and Child.


ENGLAND. LONDON, SOUTH KENSINGTON MUSEUM: Adoration of the Magi; Ma-donna and Child—GERMANY. BERLIN MUSEUM: Annunciation; Madonna and Saints—ITALY. AREZZO, CATHEDRAL: Altar-piece; Crucifixion; Madonna and Saints—AREZZO, CHURCH OF SANTA MARIA DELLE GRAZIE: Marble Altar—AREZZO, CHURCH OF SANTA MARIA IN GRADO: Altar-piece—ASSISI, CHURCH OF SANTA MARIA DEGLI ANGELI: Altar-piece—CAMALDOLI (CASENTINO): Altar-piece—FLORENCE, ACADEMY: Resurrection; Assumption; Madonna and Child (4)— FLORENCE, HOSPITAL OF THE INNOCENTI: Bambini (Plate VI); Annunciation (Plate VIII) —FLORENCE, LOGGIA DI SAN PAOLO: St. Francis and St. Dominic (Plate VII)—FLORENCE, MUSEUM OF THE CATHEDRAL: Madonna—FLORENCE, NATIONAL MUSEUM: Madonna and Child (5); Adoring Madonna (5) —FLORENCE, HOSPITAL OF SANTA MARIA NUOVA: Madonna and Child—FLORENCE, CHURCH OF SAN GAETANO:Madonna of the Bertello—FOJANO, COLLEGIATE CHURCH: Madonna of the Girdle— GRADARA (ROCCA DI), PALAZZO BIANCO:Altar-piece—MEMMENANO,CHURCH OF SAN MATTEO:Altar-piece —MONTEPULCIAN0: Altar-piece— PISTOJA, CATHEDRAL: Madonna and Angels—PRATO, CATHEDRAL: Madonna and Child —PRATO, CHURCH OF SANTA MARIA DELLE CARCERI: Medallions of Evangelists—SANTA FIORA MONTE AMIATA: Madonna of the Girdle; Baptism of Christ— SIENA, CHURCH OF THE OSSERVANZA: Coronation of the Virgin-LA VERNA: Annunciation; Adoration; Crucifixion; Ascension; Madonna of the Girdle; Madonna and Saints —VITERBO, CHURCH OF THE MADONNA DELLA QUERCIA: Madonna and Saints; St. Peter Martyr; St. Thomas Aquinas—UNITED STATES. NEW YORK, METROPOLITAN MUSEUM: Altar-piece.



BALDINUCCI, F. Notizie dei professori del disegno. (Florence, 1845–47)—BARBET DE JOUY, H. Les Della Robbia. (Paris, 1855)—BODE, W. Die Kunstlerfamilie della Robbia [in Dohme' s Kunst und Kunstler, etc.]. (Leipsic, 1878)—BODE, W. Italienische Bildhauer der Renaissance. (Berlin, 1887)—BODE, W. Denkmäler der Renaissance-Sculptur Toscanas. (Munich, 1892-94)—BURCKHARDT, J. Der Cicerone [edited by W. Bode]. (Leipsic, 1898) —BURLAMACCHI, L. Luca della Robbia. (Lon-don, 1890) —CASOTTI, B. Memorie istoriche della Miracolosa Immagine di Maria Vergine dell’ Impruneta. (Florence, 1714)—CAVALUCCI, C. J., and MOLINIER, E. Les Della Robbia. (Paris, 1884)—CICOGN AR A, L. Storia della scultura. (Prato, 1824)—FARABULINI, D. Sopra un monumento della Scuola di Luca della Robbia. (Rome, 1886)–GENOLINI, A. Maioliche italiane. (Milan, 1881)—JACQUEMART, A. Ceramic Art. (London, 1873) —LABORDE, H. DE. Le Château du Bois de Boulogne. (Paris, 1853)—LüBKE, W. History of Sculpture: Trans. by F. E. Bunnètt. (London, 1872)—MELANI, A. Manuele di scultura italiana. (Milan, ’899)— MIDDLETON, J. H. Della Robbia [in Encyclopmdia Britannica]. (Edinburgh, 1883). —MUNTZ, E. Histoire de l’art pendant la Renaissance. (Paris, 1889–95)—MÜNTZ, E. Florence et la Toscane. (Paris, 1897)— OLIPHANT, M. The Makers of Florence. (London, 1876)—PATER, W. Renaissance Studies. (London, 1873) —PERKINS, C. C. Tuscan Sculptors. (London, 1864)—PERKINS, C. C. Handbook of Italian Sculpture. (New York, 1883)-REYMOND, M. Les Della Robbia. (Florence, 1897)-Rio, A. F. L’Art chrétien. (Paris, 1861)—ROBINSON, J. C. Italian Sculpture of the Middle Ages, etc. (London, 1862)—RUMOHR, C. F. VON. Italienische Forschungen. (Berlin, 1827)—SCOTT, L. Luca della Robbia. (New York, 1883) —SCOTT, L. Sculpture, Renaissance and Modern. (London, 1891)—SYMONDS, J. A. Renaissance in Italy. (London, 1897)—VAN RENSSELAER, M. G. Six Portraits. (New York, 1889)—VASARI, G. Lives of the Painters. (New York, 1897)—YRIARTE, C. Florence. (Paris, 1881.)


AMERICAN JOURNAL OF ARCHAEOLOGY, 1891: Andrea della Robbia’s ‘Assumption of the Virgin’ in the Metropolitan Museum, New York (A. Marquand). 893: Some Unpublished Monuments by Luca della Robbia (A. Marquand). 1894: The Madonnas of Luca della Robbia (A. Marquand) —ARCHIVIO STORICO DELL’ ARTE, 1888: Nuovi documenti sull’ altare robbiano nella chiesa di San Medardo in Arcevia (A. Anselmi). 1888: La Chiesa di San Giovanni de’ Fiorentini a Viterbo (E. Gentile). 1889: Fra Mattia della Robbia (D. Gnoli). 1890—91: Luca della Robbia ed i suoi precursori (W. Bode). 1891: Il Tabernacolo nella sacrestia della chiesa di San Niccold da Tolentino in Prato (G. Carotti). 1892: Il Museo nazionale di Firenze nel triennio 1889–91 (U. Rossi). 1895: Le Maioliche dei Della Robbia nella provincia di Pesaro-Urbino (A. Anselmi) —ATHENIEUM, 1886: Review of Cavalucci’s and Molinier’s ‘Les Della Robbia’—THE BRICKBUILDER, 1895: Luca della Robbia and his Use of Glazed Terra-cotta (A. Marquand). 1896: Andrea della Robbia and his Altar-pieces (A. Marquand)—CHURCH QUARTERLY, 1885: Luca della Robbia and his SchoolI—GAZETTE ARCHÉOLOGIQUE, 1884: Une oeuvre inédite de Luca della Robbia (E. Molinier)—GAZETTE DES BEAUX-ARTS, 1874: Les Musiciens de Luca della Robbia (P. Senneville). 1888: La Renaissance au Musée de Berlin (W. Bode). 189o: La Della Robbia de Marseille (P. Trabaud)—HARPER’S MONTHLY MAGAZINE, 188o: Luca della Robbia and his School (E. D. R. Bian-iardi) — JAHRBUCH DER PREUSSISCHEN KUNSTSAMMLUNGEN, 1885: Die florentiner Thonbilder in den ersten Jahrzehnten des Quattrocento (W. Bode). 1886: Neue Erwerbungen fur die Abteilung der christlichen Plastik in den Museen zu Berlin (W. Bode). 1890: Versuche der Ausbildung des genre in der florentiner Plastik des Quattrocento (W. Bode). ’900: Luca della Robbia (W. Bode)—Music, ’897: The Singing Boys of Luca della Robbia (F. Everham)—PORTFOLIO, 1886: Luca della Robbia (C. Monkhouse)—REVUE DES DEUX MONDES, 1865: La Sculpture florentine (H. de Laborde)—SCRIBNER’s MAGAZINE, 1893: A. Search for Della Robbia Monuments in Italy (A. Marquand).

( Originally Published 1901 )

Masters In Art – Luca and Andera Della Robbia:Masters In Art – Luca And Andera Della RobbiaCavalucci And Molinier – ‘les Della Robbia”vasari’s Lives’Mrs. Oliphant – ‘the Makers Of Florence’Marcel Reymond – ‘les Della Robbia’Walter Pater – ‘the Renaissance’The Works Of Luca And Andrea Della Robbia