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Fri Sep 18, 2015, 03:59 PM

Family Business: The Glorious Art of the della Robbias

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You know the art of the della Robbias. Yes, you do. It’s probably hanging from your front door at Christmas time, inspired by the family of artists known for their decorative art using seasonal fruits, vegetables, berries, pods, fruit and leaves. Nowadays these are commonly called “della Robbia Christmas wreathes.” (The wreath itself, of course, has its own history)

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Or that is what it became over the two centuries in Italy that started with Luca della Robbia in the early Italian Renaissance. Luca, who trained as a goldsmith, worked in marble, bronze...and terra cotta and then invented the family’s “secret recipe,” a fire-glazing protective coating on the finished product. Brunelleschi, whose genius created the dome of Florence’s famous cathedral, had experimented with that medium. But terra cotta, while highly flexible and expressive, is a very fragile medium and as an architectural adornment (such as lunettes) vulnerable to the weather. Luca’s invention protected it from the elements.

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The glaze enabled Luca to decorate the outside of Florence’s fabulous Ospedale degli Innocenti (designed by Brunelleschi).

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Florence, during its days as a republic, built this home for babies whose mothers could not care for them, accepting them through a large “lazy susan” device...a kind of “drop-off center.” It is a touching reminder of Florence’s heart and symbolizes the increasingly humanistic and humanitarian outlook of the city during that time.

Luca’s sweetly envisaged medallions of the piccolini demonstrating the step by step method of swaddling infants so they would “grow straight” is part of that city’s feelings for those most in need, in this case the little abandoned babies....

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Luca has his rightful place in the masterpieces of the early Italian Renaissance for his lovely cantoria (choir loft) of singing, happy children which was in the duomo, now in its museum.

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Luca’s nephew, Andrea, continued and expanded the famed della Robbia workshop, teaching the “family recipe” to other budding sculptors, which lasted into the mid-1600s. Adapting the medieval technique of applying tin oxide glaze over clay, Luca developed a method for mixing the white opaque glaze with other powdered metals to produce brilliant colors and a durable surface. Some sources note that its clear glaze may have been fired over the colors to create the luminous finish that glowed, even in dimly lit interiors.

In the 16th century, della Robbias contributed the beautiful “street art” that you see in Florence’s neighborhoods even today. One of my favorites is the tabernacle of the fonticine (little fountains) by Giovanni della Robbia, Luca’s great nephew, in 1522, which you can see today on the Via Nazionale (now behind glass probably to protect it from pollution).

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Andrea’s workshop developed a range of offerings, expanded to include complex dramatic tableaux of figures, decorative architectural features, elaborate schemes for cupolas, family crests and coats of arms to an upscale market. Orders came in not only from Italy but also France, Spain, Portugal, Flanders and England.

And so here was an irony: seeing that their family name, derived from their dyer forebears (“robbia” referred to the ruby dye of the family’s fabric dyeing craft), the technical challenges presented by firing reds defeated the studio, preventing it from employing the color. So use of the color red had to be abandoned in the terra cottas.

The family business survived the madness of Savonarola by deftly modifying its “product line” to reflect the new austerity. Two of Andrea’s sons entered the San Marco convent and continued to make the tin glazed terra cottas for the order, gradually absorbing the Mannerist style more in line with the art of Raphael and Andrea del Sarto.

But eventually the family simply died out and, as Vasari updated his “Lives of the Artists” to note that “now art was deprived of the knowledge of the proper method of glazing.”

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Arrow 22 replies Author Time Post
Reply Family Business: The Glorious Art of the della Robbias (Original post)
CTyankee Sep 2015 OP
djean111 Sep 2015 #1
CTyankee Sep 2015 #2
CaliforniaPeggy Sep 2015 #3
CTyankee Sep 2015 #4
blogslut Sep 2015 #5
CTyankee Sep 2015 #6
blogslut Sep 2015 #7
CTyankee Sep 2015 #8
blogslut Sep 2015 #9
CTyankee Sep 2015 #10
blogslut Sep 2015 #11
CTyankee Sep 2015 #12
blogslut Sep 2015 #13
CTyankee Sep 2015 #14
blogslut Sep 2015 #15
CTyankee Sep 2015 #16
brer cat Sep 2015 #17
CTyankee Sep 2015 #18
roguevalley Sep 2015 #19
CTyankee Sep 2015 #20
CTyankee Sep 2015 #21
coffeenap Sep 2015 #22

Response to CTyankee (Original post)

Fri Sep 18, 2015, 04:02 PM

1. Thank you! I enjoy these beautiful OPs so very much! nt

 

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Response to djean111 (Reply #1)

Fri Sep 18, 2015, 04:05 PM

2. thanks. I enjoy putting them together.

I saw the Ospedale when I was in Florence. The street thing was harder to track down but I found it. Unfortunately, it doesn't have the pizazz on the street that this nice color photo shows. Esp. since it is behind glass. But it's there, so there's that!

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Response to CTyankee (Original post)

Fri Sep 18, 2015, 04:07 PM

3. These are so gorgeous, my dear CTyankee!

Thank you!

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Response to CaliforniaPeggy (Reply #3)

Fri Sep 18, 2015, 04:14 PM

4. thanks. great stuff. I didn't know about the wreath thing until I read an article on it...

interesting history there of something we all like to see come Christmas time...

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Response to CTyankee (Original post)

Fri Sep 18, 2015, 04:22 PM

5. Gorgeous works.

Shame about the red and the lost technique.

Makes me think of my departed uncle. A task like that would have intrigued him. He developed his own technique, toward the end, incorporating sand into bas-relief type stuff.

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Response to blogslut (Reply #5)

Fri Sep 18, 2015, 04:25 PM

6. street art!

Are you an artist, by any chance?

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Response to CTyankee (Reply #6)

Fri Sep 18, 2015, 04:28 PM

7. Not really.

I make stuff but it's mostly for shits and giggles.

My uncle was the real deal. That's a sidewalk installation in front of the Library at Southwestern Oklahoma State University.

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Response to blogslut (Reply #7)

Fri Sep 18, 2015, 04:30 PM

8. that is fitting I think.

what do you make?

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Response to CTyankee (Reply #8)

Fri Sep 18, 2015, 04:36 PM

9. Whatever strikes me.

I get an idea or decide I want to try something and futz until I make a reasonable thingy and then I get bored until something else tickles my creative bone. I'm just a hobbyist.

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Response to blogslut (Reply #9)

Fri Sep 18, 2015, 04:40 PM

10. how I wish I had that talent...

but alas, I cannot...so I do essays about art...you are lucky to have that talent.

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Response to CTyankee (Reply #10)

Fri Sep 18, 2015, 05:01 PM

11. I don't have talent.

I mean, I am okay at art things. I can draw and paint a bit. I can sculpt a little. I make some nice jewelry on occasion. But I am neither a draftsman nor a visionary. I am a capable amateur.

That is my uncle's doing. When we stayed with him we were not allowed to just watch him work. We were expected to make our own art. He would give us a few supplies from whatever medium he was working in and told to create. He would give us some instruction but only if we asked.

I miss him.

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Response to blogslut (Reply #11)

Fri Sep 18, 2015, 05:06 PM

12. I was discouraged as a kid from even trying...

I had tried to do something in artwork but was told by my teacher it was pretty bad...that had an affect...

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Response to CTyankee (Reply #12)

Fri Sep 18, 2015, 05:20 PM

13. That is so wrong.

But that doesn't have to stop you now. They're not the boss of you anymore!

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Response to blogslut (Reply #13)

Fri Sep 18, 2015, 05:25 PM

14. It kinda "bent" me, tho...It's OK, I kinda like what I am doing now...

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Response to CTyankee (Reply #14)

Fri Sep 18, 2015, 05:27 PM

15. I adore your Friday posts!

Never stop!

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Response to blogslut (Reply #15)

Fri Sep 18, 2015, 05:32 PM

16. Thank you! I probably will...I have another essay in mind but need to write it...

doing research now. I hope to put it online in two weeks...fun projects...my goal is to get folks interested in different art works, even with new ideas on some old classics, but trying to help the understanding of different eras and styles. So much great stuff...

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Response to CTyankee (Original post)

Fri Sep 18, 2015, 05:40 PM

17. There are some lovely pieces there.

I have never heard of the medallions showing the swaddling of babies. How interesting!

Thanks for the OP, CTyankee.

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Response to brer cat (Reply #17)

Fri Sep 18, 2015, 06:35 PM

18. I did some research. It was a surprise to me in a way, but really, when you think about it

those poor unwanted babies who needed care, it makes sense. Swaddling was a practice that evidently didn't go out until the early 20th century, and now swaddling is considered a good thing to help newborns adapt to the outside world.My little grandson was swaddled a couple of years ago when he was born...

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Response to CTyankee (Original post)

Fri Sep 18, 2015, 07:17 PM

19. God, these art posts are glorious. Thank you so much.

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Response to roguevalley (Reply #19)

Fri Sep 18, 2015, 08:04 PM

20. I aim to please!

Glad you like them. They are wondrous. I am in awe of these artists...

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Response to CTyankee (Original post)

Sat Sep 19, 2015, 07:12 AM

21. kick for the Saturday morning folk who missed the posting yesterday...you know

who you are...

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Response to CTyankee (Original post)

Sat Sep 19, 2015, 09:13 AM

22. Thank you!!! My daughter is in Florence studying conservation

right now! I will share this with her immediately. (Also, this is the name Barbara Kingsolver gave to her protagonist in " Flight Behavior," a book I adore.)

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