Della Robbia: Sculpting with Color in Renaissance Florence


Madonna and Child with Cherubim by Andrea della Robbia dates to c. 1485. Photo: National Gallery of Art, Washington, Andrew W. Mellon Collection.

Through June 4, 2017
National Gallery of Art
Washington, D.C.
During the Renaissance, Florence saw the rise of brilliant, innovative artists who forever shaped the face of Western art. Michelangelo, Donatello, da Vinci, Botticelli and Brunelleschi are just some of the names that come to mind. Their works both celebrated classic styles and invented new ones. One family’s foray into a new medium created a particularly bright legacy. In a world of often colorless sculptures, the della Robbia family’s vivid glazed terracotta creations stood out.
Their glossy sculptures—creamy white contrasted with vibrant, saturated colors—are recognizable and unique. In the 15th century, Luca della Robbia invented a new technology of glazing terracotta sculptures. After shaping and firing the clay, he covered the pieces in colorful glazes and fired them a second time. The result was a durable, weather-resistant art form whose colors did not fade.
Luca passed this new technology on to his nephew, Andrea della Robbia, who in turn taught five of his sons. Lasting for nearly a century (c. 1440–1530), the della Robbia workshop produced works—usually of a devotional nature—for individuals and institutions. These pieces were popular in their day not only for their durability and beauty but also for their legibility. Their bright coloring made them easier to see from a distance, thereby making the scenes they depicted more discernible.
Through June 4, 2017, you can see some of these masterpieces at the National Gallery of Art in the exhibit Della Robbia: Sculpting with Color in Renaissance Florence. In person, these pieces appear even brighter than in photographs—a testament to the della Robbias’ legacy.

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