Today we get to know the Della Robbia,master ceramists who invented glazed terracotta. In the territory of Arezzo there are many works that bear their signature. From the old city centre to the four valleys of the province you will often come across the bright colors and shiny surfaces of these signature ceramics.
Della Robbia Style, tricks to recognize it
There are some recurring elements in the sketch of the so-called Della Robbia. They usually depict religious subjects, but do not take it for granted (even around Arezzo exceptions are not lacking).
There are some majestic and more discreet in size and are found mainly inside churches and religious places. Yet sometimes they will surprise you from the facades of civil buildings and inside museums.
Della Robbia’s Secret
Between the Fifteenth and Sixteenth centuries the Della Robbia conquered the red carpet in the artistic panorama of Tuscany. Their home-shop was in the centre of Florence and became famous.
The flash of genius is due to Luca, the founder of the artistic dynasty. He was the pioneer of what can be considered an evolution of the technique of majolica.
A prodigious recipe with which the basic material of the work was treated making it waterproof and more resistant. But you still have to listen to the best. That mixture, the result of the genius of Luca Della Robbia, remained at least partly a mystery.
It seems that before being completed with the heat of the fire, the terracotta was immersed in a substance called crystalline, an enamel obtained with sand, lead oxide and water. It is not known whether Luca derived it from nothing or was inspired by a previous formula, but it was just like this that sculpture approached painting in the colorful and shiny surface trademark of Della Robbia.
In addition to the works of the initiator, the heritage of Della Robbia includes those of his nephew Andrea. Potter like his uncle, it seems he was also particularly skilled as a merchant.
Andrea taught the craft to his son Giovanni and later Francesco, Marco, Girolamo and Luca the youngerentered the workshop, all artists who perfected the original production technique. In this way the specialties of the Florentine laboratory were purchased and spread throughout half of Europe.
The land of Della Robbia
If you want to admire the art of Della Robbia, here you really are spoiled for choice. In the old city centre of Arezzo the glazed terracotta surround you silently, adorning the façades of important buildings and the interiors of palaces and churches. The ceramics of these Renaissance masters also appear in the province to decorate sanctuaries, churches, museums and palaces.
Arezzo, Museum of Fine Arts Ceramics
The National Museum of Medieval and Modern Art, the Church of Santa Maria in Gradi and that of San Domenico, the House Museum Ivan Bruschi, Palazzo Cavallo… Della Robbia’s artwork is one of the leitmotifs of your city tour. And do not forget the Sanctuary of Santa Maria delle Grazie, just outside the walls.
A Temple by Della Robbia inside the Cathedral
The Chapel of Our Lady of the Comfort inside the Cathedral of Arezzo is definitely worth a visit. Climb into the upper part of the city, enter the huge Gothic cathedral. In the space dedicated to the Virgin Protectress of Arezzo, there is a collection of five treasures of glazed terracotta, transferred here in the Nineteenth century from their original sites of worship.
Perhaps the monumental altarpiece depicting the Holy Trinity between Saints Bernard and Donato by Andrea Della Robbia will strike you more than the others. Note the powerful contrast and the magnificent three-dimensionality with which the white figures stand out against the blue background. The sparkle of colored terracotta so similar to glass will bewitch you.Also inside the Cathedral, in the Chapel of Sacramento, you can admire another artistic creation attributed to Andrea Della Robbia. It is the terracottabust of Saint Donato, the patron saint of the city, this time without the accessory glazed.
There are about 50 of Della Robbia’s glazed terracotta scattered throughout the Casentino valley. An abundance that is linked to the spiritual profile of the territory, rich in places inhabited by Franciscan friars and Camaldolese monks. Consider also thatCasentino in those centuries was very close to Florence for commercial, cultural and political reasons.
La Verna is a kind of El Dorado of Della Robbia because here are preserved about a third of the terracotta of the famous ceramists. The Arte della Lana, one of the guilds of Florence, paid the costs for the construction of the Franciscan sanctuary and Della Robbia ceramics illuminated it with color. Here you can contemplate one of the most beautiful works by Andrea Della Robbia, the Annunciation.
Collect in your memory the terracotta wonders you will come across in Bibbiena, Stia, Poppi, Camaldoli and in some of the smaller towns of Casentino. A treasure hunt that will make you even more passionate about these exceptional pieces of art.
Even in the Upper Tiber Valley you can indulge, creating your favorite itinerary themed “Della Robbia ceramics”. In Anghiari, visit the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie for the altarpiece of Our Lady of Mercy and the State Museum of Palazzo Taglieschi.
At the Civic Museum of Sansepolcro, however, you will be given a full immersion of exceptional art with the paintings by Piero della Francesca and the terracotta of Andrea’s workshop. The Nativity, where the Holy Family is represented under the roof of a hut surrounded by trees, flowers, animals, angels and shepherds, is unforgettable.
Pieve Santo Stefano will reveal to you pearls of dazzling splendor. The glazed terracotta altarpiece by Girolamo Della Robbia, dedicated to Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well and preserved in the town hall, is amazing.
The coats of arms of the lords of the past on the outside of the building and some ceramics in the Church of Saints Peter and Paul in Valsavignone and in the Collegiate Church of Saints Stephen are also made by Della Robbia.
Valdarno and Valdichiana
In the lands of Arezzo washed by the Arno you will not feel nostalgia for the works by Della Robbia. In San Giovanni Valdarno you will find them in the heraldic coats of arms on the facade of Palazzo d’Arnolfo. In Montevarchi, precisely at the Museum of Sacred Art of the Collegiate Church,the Temple made by Andrea will take your breath away.
Now all you need to do is search the Valdichiana. The first town you have to score is Foiano. Works by Della Robbia embellish several churches in this picturesque town: the Collegiate Church of Saint Martino, the Churches of Sant’Eufemia, Saint Domenico and Saint Francis.
Glazed terracotta tiles make more beautiful places like Monte San Savino, Castiglion Fiorentino and Civitella in Val di Chiana. Now that you know everything you need to launch yourself to discover the jewels of the Della Robbia in the land of Arezzo, we just have to wish you a safe journey!