An artistic dynasty: the epic works of the Della Robbia family
Discover the fascinating story of this family of sculptors and ceramics craftsmen who became famous all over Europe
The work of the Della Robbia family, which spans a period of time from the beginning of the fifteenth century to beyond the second half of the sixteenth century, had an immense cultural impact in Western art. The most famous of the Della Robbias is Luca (Florence, 1399 – 1482) who was the first of a line of Della Robbias to sculpt terracotta and create glazed ceramic works of art. He was born into a family that was well-known in the textiles sector in fourteenth century Florence and in fact their name, Della ‘Robbia’ comes from a colour of dye (similar to ‘ruby’) that they used in textiles production. The Renaissance was just beginning to bloom and Luca, like so many other artists of the day began experimenting with art. His religious faith and moral integrity are well-noted although little is known about his formal artistic training.
Luca created a monumental ‘Cantoria’ for the Duomo in Florence (competing with Donatello) which was the first example of Florentine Classicism. It is known that Brunelleschi greatly admired this work of art and the artist himself. In later years, Luca stopped sculpting marble and began experimenting with glazed terracotta, developing an extraordinarily refined technique which was hugely popular and successful. From this activity, the Della Robbia workshop was created and went on producing works for over 100 years. In August 1446, Luca Della Robbia and his brother Marco bought a house in Via Guelfa surrounded by allotments and fields, right on the edge of Florence. The house stayed in the family for three generations of artists. When his brother died, Luca adopted his nephews, one of whom was Andrea Della Robbia and who already worked in his uncle’s workshop.
Andrea went onto ‘industrialise’ artistic production of glazed ceramics and made a great deal of money from his work, even more than his uncle had accumulated in his lifetime. He produced a vast number of both religious and non-religious pieces. Five of Andrea’s sons continued the family’s artistic tradition, the most famous being Giovanni (1469 – 1529/30). He managed to bring the workshop’s production back in line with the fast changing popular artistic tastes. His earlier works are almost indistinguishable from his father’s although his later pieces show his more personal, distinct style. His works include polychrome coats of arms, domestic decorations and important religious commissions. Of the other brothers who worked in the workshop, Girolamo and Luca the Younger are the most significant. Both updated the Robbian style and produced important works. Girolamo eventually moved to France where he continued to work.