The other day at a consignment shop, I found a ceramic wall statue with a white face and brightly colored fruits surrounding the head. It reminded me of a Della Robbia-type of ceramic.
In reality, Della Robbia really only made religious plaques…but the brightly colored flowers is what reminded me of the style. And this led to my investigation into the ceramics called Della Robbia’s. Lo and behold, so many examples of Della Robbia’s started popping up all over the place. Walking around Los Gatos, near St. Mary’s Catholic Church, I saw a wall plaque. On the side wall of St. Nicholas Church in Los Altos was another one. At the convent at Dominican College in San Rafael – yet another! It’s amazing how you begin to notice art when you are conscious of it. I have walked by those plaques in Los Gatos and Los Altos millions of times and never paid any attention to them. Last weekend, while visiting the Victorian Avant Garde exhibit at the Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco, I came face to face with one as I was walking through the museum to get to the exhibit. This was an original one by the famed Andrea Della Robbia!
In my own collection, I have two Della Robbia’s.
This one is for sale in my shop here.
The other one is a family heirloom which holds meaning for me. It belonged to my husband’s grandmother and graced her walls for many years. It is very old and I’m lucky to have it as a treasured possession.
In the tiny, unassuming town of Radicofani, Tuscany, can be found four Della Robbia masterpieces in their church.
The locals believe that Andrea Della Robbia hid his formula of glazing terra cotta in one of their statues. They have even gone to the extreme of xraying the statues, but to no avail. Since the only way to see if the document spelling out the secret formula lies within in one of the pieces would require breaking it, they have decided to leave it hidden for now! The technique seems to have been carried down through the ages just fine.
Andrea Della Robbia was one of the most important ceramic artists of Renaissance Florence. He learned the technique of glazing terra cotta from his uncle, Luca Della Robbia, and perfected the technique in his own studio. This technique gained a lot of popularity because his altar pieces could be made more colorful and at a lesser expense than marble altarpieces – and they were MUCH lighter to transport. His statues and plaques have the distinctive blue background with the white reliefs of Jesus, Mary, Joseph and the Saints. At times, the plaques are surround by colorful fruits and flowers. Today, several ceramic studios in Italy make these beautiful plaques.