Italian Renaissance Master Della Robbia Gets His First Major US Show

The Italian Renaissance great is known for his vibrantly-colored sculptures.

A work by Luca della Robbia. Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston.
A work by Luca della Robbia. Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston.

An Italian Renaissance great will get his moment in the spotlight here in the US, as the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston will host the first major stateside exhibition of the glazed terracotta sculptures of Luca della Robbia (1399/1400–1482). “Della Robbia: Sculpting with Color in Renaissance Florence,” which opens in August, will feature about 50 works by the artist and his family.

The deep blue and opaque white glazes of the artist’s oeuvre were achieved through a special glazing technique invented by Della Robbia. The artist collaborated closely with his nephew Andrea della Robbia, who passed on the secrets of their craft to his sons Giovanni, Luca the Younger, Marco, Francesco, and Girolamo.

Della Robbia’s groundbreaking techniques were employed in both sacred and secular art, and the family workshop flourished in Florence for roughly a century. Even today, the vibrant colors Della Robbia achieved retain their bold vibrancy and glossy sheen, enduring across the centuries.

A work by Luca della Robbia. Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston.

A work by Luca della Robbia. Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston.

“Della Robbia sculpture is a quintessentially Florentine Renaissance art form, one that seems to transport us to the 15th-century city,” said curator Marietta Cambareri, who organized the exhibit, in a statement.

“Praised in its own day as ‘almost eternal,’ and seen as a new invention not known in antiquity, Luca della Robbia’s technique of glazed terracotta displays the creative ingenuity and graceful beauty that characterized the Renaissance and that continues to astonish and beguile us today,” she added.

The exhibition will feature six loans from Italy of pieces that have never been seen in the States, including The Visitation (about 1445), which will travel to Boston from the church of San Giovanni Fuorcivitas in Pistoia.

Luca della Robbia, <em>The Visitation</em> (about 1445). Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston/Church of San Giovanni Fuorcivitas, Pistoia.

Luca della Robbia, The Visitation (about 1445). Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston/Church of San Giovanni Fuorcivitas, Pistoia.

From Florence’s Uffizi Gallery comes Saint Francis (about 1550), one of three nearly life-size preaching saint sculptures planned for the exhibition. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art is loaning Saint John of Capistrano (about 1550), while Saint Bernadino of Siena (about 1550) will come to the show from a private collection.

The Brooklyn Museum is also chipping in with its newly-restored Resurrection of Christ (about 1520–24), a 11-foot-wide lunette relief sculpture which originally graced a garden gate at a Tuscan villa belonging to one of Florence’s leading families. The piece, which is made up of 46 individual pieces and just underwent an extensive, year-long conservation, has not left Brooklyn since the museum acquired in in 1898.

With everything from Madonna and Child reliefs to coats-of-arms and still-life works, the exhibition will show the full range of work produced by the Della Robbia workshop, and the durable, lasting quality of their unique glazing techniques.

“Della Robbia: Sculpting with Color in Renaissance Florence” will be on view at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, August 9, 2016–December 4, 2016.


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