Luca and Andrea della ROBBIA 'MADONNAS'

della Robbia

Robbia was the name of a Florentine family of Renaissance artists which flourished for nearly 150 years and was known especially for their sculpture and ceramics. Luca della Robbia (1400-1482) was the first of the dynasty; Andrea his nephew, and Giovanni, son of Andrea, his grandnephew, were the other principal artists. Works by the two most notable members, Luca and Andrea, are to be found in All Saints Church. They were brought back from Italy by the Reverend John Sanford in 1833. Luca, under the tutellage of Donatello, was initially a sculptor working principally in marble and bronze, but he later developed independantly a pottery glaze that made terra-cotta more durable in the outdoors and thus suitable for use on the exterior of buildings. Among his most prestigeous early commissions as a sculptor were the Sacristy doors for the cathedral in Florence (1464-69). According to Vasari;

"He was commissioned to make the same sacristy's bronze doors ... and for the scenes on each square he made first, Our Lady clasping her Son, and next Jesus Christ coming forth from the tomb...

"But then Luca, after finishing these works, made a reckoning of how much he had earned, and how much time he had spent on them, and then realised that he had gained hardly anything despite his great efforts. So he resolved to abandon marble and bronze, [and], having considered that clay could be worked easily and that all that was wanting was a way by which the works made in clay could be preserved, he let his imagination loose so successfully that he found a way to protect it against the ravages of time. And for this method of working...all ages to come will be under an obligation to him."

della Robbia

It is this technique which was employed, as Vasari predicted, to the ultimate benefit of anyone visiting All Saints in Nynehead. Luca Della Robbia's glazed terra-cotta bas-reliefs, were usually white figures on a blue ground and mostly of religious subjects. Two of his most famous terra-cotta works are ‘The Nativity’, circa 1460 and ‘Madonna and Child’, circa 1475, and an example of the latter is in All Saints Church. Luca initially worked in white and blue but later added glazes of many colors, especially green and yellow on a wreath of fruits and flowers around the figures. His terra-cottas were individual pieces of art, built into walls to serve in architectural contexts. Luca's work is noted for its charm rather than the drama seen in the work of some of his contemporaries.

The innovative fine ceramic work developed by Luca was continued by his family into the 16th century. Andrea Della Robbia (1437-1528), Luca's nephew, was the most important of Luca's successors. Trained by his uncle in both marble and ceramics, Andrea specialized in the creation of narrative sculpture. His best-known work is the Foundling Children (1463-66), ten tondos, or round sculptures, depicting swaddled infants, on the facade of Spedale degli Innocenti, Florence. It is a ‘Virgin and Child’ of Andrea's that is in All Saints Church. Andrea's two sons, Giovanni della Robbia (1469?-1529?) and Girolamo della Robbia (1488-1566), also became skilled terra-cotta sculptors; however, their work was inferior to that of their father and uncle and has no place in Nynehead church!