In the 15th century, Luca della Robbia was a pioneering sculptor who produced some of the most vibrant and colorful sculptures known to this day. A talented artist who developed new ways of combining colored glaze with delicate terracotta sculptures, della Robbia has long been considered one of the pioneering artists of the Renaissance period. However, unlike many of his peers, della Robbia’s work has never received its own dedicated show in the United States – until now.
This August, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston will present 50 works by della Robbia and his family in a new exhibition called “Della Robbia: Sculpting with Color in Renaissance Florence”. While many of these works have been on display in other museums around the country, this will be the first time that so many of della Robbia’s artworks will be displayed together, Sarah Cascone reports for artnet News.
“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,” curator Marietta Cambareri, who organized the show, said in a statement.
Even after 500 years, many of della Robbia’s sculptures are characterized by their vivid colors, thanks to his revolutionary glazing techniques. In one sculpture, a shining white image of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus pops out against a cobalt-blue background. In another, titled “Judith,” a woman stands triumphant in a flowing blue gown, holding a gleaming golden sword in one hand and the severed head of a man in the other.
While several of della Robbia's contemporaries also worked with terracotta, including Brunelleschi and Donatello, most artworks made with the material were fragile and easily broken, Roderick Conway Morris wrote for the New York Times. However, by experimenting with glazing techniques drawn from manufacturing ceramics used in the home, della Robbia figured out a way to make his sculptures durable enough to display outdoors and vibrant enough to shine even in the darkest of churches.
The new exhibition will encompass work of all sorts made by della Robbia and his descendants, to whom della Robbia entrusted with his secrets. From mass-produced works to special, custom-made sculptures, the show will highlight some of the best examples of his technique from collections around the world.
“Della Robbia: Sculpting with Color in Renaissance Florence” will be on display at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston from August 9 to December 4. Afterward, it will travel to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. for another exhibition from February 5 to June 4, 2017.