A Survey of the Ceramic Reliefs of the Renaissance Florentine Artist Andrea della Robbia

Madonna and Child with Ss. Stephen and Lawrence, ca. 1489, Duomo of Prato

If you spend any time in Tuscany, you will no doubt have come across the beautiful, coloured ceramics that can be found there. One of the most prominent Renaissance artists who produced such works in the region is Andrea della Robbia who was born in Florence -- the heart and centre of the Renaissance -- in 1435, dying at the ripe age of ninety in the year 1525.   In point of fact it was Andrea's uncle, Luca della Robbia, who first popularized the use of glazed terracotta for sculptural works and it was under him that Andrea would apprentice and ultimately overtake in terms of his prominence and importance in the field.

Much of Andrea della Robbia's work comes in the form of sculptural reliefs that were incorporated into architectural settings. This would come in the form of exterior works -- such as the tympanum seen immediately above -- or interior works that included decorative friezes, altarpieces, baptismal fonts, medallions and the like. Many of these works were larger in scale and for churches and other public structures, but he would also create smaller, private devotional works as well -- frequently Madonnas and other popular saints of the time and region. (See right: Angelo Cardinal Bagnasco holding an example of this type of smaller devotional work -- though likely not a work by Andrea della Robbia please note.)

The style of these works is quite distinctive. Sometimes the figures were coloured, but frequently they were monochromatic and set onto a royal blue background. Many of these works, especially his smaller, devotional works, were frequently accompanied by borders made up from decorative garlands with fruits and flowers. 

Andrea della Robbia's works can be found throughout Tuscany, most notably in Florence, Arezzo, Siena, Lucca, Pistoia, Prato and Volterra, to name only a few, and while he also created fully three dimensional sculptural works in addition to his relief works, our focus for today are some of his iconic relief works -- works which predominate his portfolio.  In view of that goal, LAJ is pleased to present today a brief survey of just some of his prodigious output as a sacred artist.  Enjoy. 

Madonna and Child with Ss. Peter and Paul, ca. 1510-1524

Madonna and Child with Ss. Cosmas and Damian, 1466, Arciconfraternità della Misericordia, Florence

Pentecost, ca. 1505-1510

Madonna and Child, 1475

Annunciation, ca. 1490-1510

Assumption of the Virgin, ca. 1514

Crucifixion, Sanctuary of La Verna -- an example of a partially coloured corpus

Madonna and Child with Angels, Louvre Museum

Altarpiece of the Holy Trinity, 1485-1486, Cathedral of Arezzo

Madonna of Mercy, ca. 1500-1510

St. Augustine, ca. 1490

Coronation of the Virgin, ca. 1474, Chiesa dell'Osservanza, Siena

Madonna and Child with Angels, ca. 1505, Cathedral of Pistoia

Aumbry, 1512, Santi Apostoli, Florence

Madonna and Child, ca. 1505-1510, Hermitage

Madonna and Child with Ss. Jerome, Catherine, Mary Magdalene and Louis, 1480

Detail of altarpiece of the Crucifixion and God the Father, ca. 1483

St. Lawrence, second half of the 15th century, Lucca

ca. 1485-1490, Siena

Nativity with St. John the Evangelist and St Francis of Assisi

Madonna and Child, ca. 1470-1480, Florence

Medallion of St. John the Evangelist, ca. 1491

While all of these works we have shown to this point have been centred around figurative depictions, we would be remiss to not at least show some of his more purely ornamental relief works, such as this entablature dated to 1491-1492. The design includes classical motifs such as vases and festoons made from leaves and fruit and also includes the lily of Florence (giglio Fiorentino).

Another example of this type of work can be found in Fiesole, dated to 1500-1510; a coffered ceiling:

Similarly in Pistoia:

Finally, we conclude by showing this decorative ceramic flooring, located in Florence and dated to circa 1475-1500.

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