Thanks to the support of his close friend, Filippo Brunelleschi, after the success he achieved with the Cantoria, Luca could begin the monumental task of working on glazed terracotta. In the lunette that is situated above the door of the Sacristy of the Masses in the Florence cathedral. He worked in relief and created white figures embellished with “cold” gilding on a cobalt background. Around the figure of Christ giving his blessing he arranged the figures of the angels and sleeping soldiers dressed in “antique” armor according to strict criteria of compositional balance and harmony.Iconography
This was Luca’s first endeavor with full relief sculpture and was completed shortly before he made the two Angels for the tabernacle of the Blessed Sacrament in the Florence cathedral. It was a difficult task as regards both the considerable size that created problems in firing and transportation that was resolved by dismantling the piece and sectioning the figures with well concealed cuts. The two women are portrayed in composed, solemn poses while they fix their gaze on each other. The biblical episode of the meeting between the young Virgin Mary and the older Elizabeth was resolved in terms of lucid and sincere devotional inspiration: this feature also endeared the artist’s Virgin and Child to a large and varied public.
The Ascension of Christ
This is the lunette, above the door of the Sacristy of the Canons in the Florence cathedral, that was made to complement the Resurrection of 1442-1444. This composition is also arranged around the central figure of Christ inspired by one of Lorenzo Ghiberti’s works. Luca interpreted the scene in more descriptive and pictorial tones and introduced natural colors into the landscape, thus separating glazed terracotta from the traditions of marble sculpture.Iconography
This lunette is part of a series of works ordered from Andrea, Luca’s nephew, for Brunelleschi’s Spedale degli Innocenti, and before it went to the museum it crowned the altarpiece in the chapel Del Pugliese di Piero di Cosimo (1493). Andrea replaced his uncle’s classic, austere figures with a more colloquial and dynamic arrangement in strongly narrative tones, based on contemporary works by Antonio Rossellino, Verrocchio and Perugino. The educated Florentine clientele, that included even Lorenzo the Magnificent, especially liked the brilliant, luminous sheen of the glazed surfaces.
Saint Anthony of Padua, St. Bernardino, St. Elizabeth and St. Claire
During the last decade of the century Andrea’s devotional rigor, fired by the preachings of Savonarola induced him to abandon the exuberant vivacity of his earlier works and to adopt an austere, simplified language. The compositions of chastely robed rigid figures with stereotyped faces, wrapped enjoyed an enormous success among the less educated people and were used mainly to decorate hospitals, shelters and churches belonging to the mendicant orders. Typical works from this periods are the seven medallions with Franciscan Saints in the Spedale di San Paolo dei Convalescenti that stands opposite the church of Santa Maria Novella.Iconography
This work marked Giovanni’s debut as an independent artist. The influence of his father, Andrea (evident in the group of the Virgin and Child with Two Angels) combines with new features changed by the poetics of Verrocchio and Filippino Lippi. The artist focused on decorative exuberance, in the joyful use of classical references (the candelabras and antiqued vases with dolphins along the pilaster strips and columns are original). He favored the pictorial effects of the material as we can see in the perspective river landscape in the central part of the architecture. His contribution was that of immediately strengthening the relationship between the plastic and the pictorial.
The Incredulity of Thomas
This work reveals a clear liking for Verrocchio’s style. It is part of a group of three lunettes that the artist was commissioned to make for the church of San Jacopo a Ripoli. Without any substantial variations the figures replicate the famous group Verrocchio made for one of the niches in the church of Orsanmichele (completed in 1483). Giovanni places the figures in an imaginative landscape that is enlivened by doves, rabbits and fawns. Explicit references to late fifteenth century Florentine painting, a sign of the artist’s predilection for increasingly graceful and pretty forms can be seen in the baptismal font in the church of San Giovanni Battista at Galatrona that dates from the same period.Iconography
Pietà between the Grieving St. John and St. Mary Magdalene
Early in the second decade of the century Giovanni began distancing himself from the measured spatial rhythms of the altars his father made and adopted a “popular” or folk language that was rich in pietistic influences. In the Pietà that he made for the church of Santa Maria della Scala in Florence, he used elements from the familial lexicon enhancing them with pictorial and decorative effects. The figures project from the background that, along with the cross and symbols of the Passion, includes a broad landscape with Jerusalem in the distance. We cannot discount the hypothesis that three of the artist’s sons, Marco, Lucantonio and Simone «[who] showed great promise but died from the plague in the year 1527»; according to Vasari, also worked on this altarpiece.
Luca della Robbia was born in Florence sometime between 1399 and 1400, the third son of Simone di Marco di Vanni and Margherita. The earliest information about him dates from 1427 when he joined the Woolmakers’ Guild with his brothers Marco and Giovanni. He worked with Lorenzo Ghiberti on the Door of Paradise for the Baptistry of Florence. Between 1431 and 1438 he was engaged in sculpting one of the Cantoria in the Florence cathedral. In 1432 he joined the Guild of the Stone and Wood Carvers. The success he obtained with the Cantoria brought him other important commissions from the Opera del Duomo, including the five panels depicting the Liberal Arts on the bell tower of Santa Maria del Fiore (1437.1439). In 1441 he began his first experiments with glazing techniques on the Tabernacle of the Blessed Sacrament for the Ospedale di Santa Maria Nuova (now this piece is in Santa Maria at Peretola). The year 1445 was to be fundamental in his career: he made the Visitation for the church of San Giovanni Fuoricivitas in Pistoia and began working on the decorations for the Pazzi chapel that were completed by his nephew Andrea. That same year Luca formed a “company” with Michelozzo and Maso di Bartolomeo to make the bronze door for the sacristy of the Masses in the Florence cathedral that was completed in 1474. On 31 August 1446 Luca and his brother Marco purchased a large house in Via Guelfa; they moved their workshop to those premises and it would remain active for over a century. Marco died two years later and Luca decided to adopt his six nephews. That same year he made the two Angel Candleholders for Santa Maria del Fiore, in 1451 he began working on the ceiling of the Chapel of the Portuguese Cardinal in the church of San Miniato a Monte and made five medallions with the Cardinal Virtues and the Gifts of the Holy Spirit; between 1454 and 1456 he made the Tomb for the Bishop Federighi in the church of Santa Trinita. From the start of the seventh decade his nephew Andrea was becoming more and more active in the workshop, he worked with his uncle on decorating the two aediculae by Michelozzo in the sanctuary of Santa Maria all’Impruneta and the triptych for the oratory of San Biagio at Pescia. In 1472, Luca who was tired and ill, drew up a new will naming his nephew Simone as his heir. His final piece dates from the late ‘Seventies, it was the lunette for the convent of the Santucce and is known as the Madonna di via dell’Agnolo. Luca della Robbia died on 20 February 1482 and was interred in the family tomb in the church of San Pier Maggiore in Florence.The works