by Andrea Della Robbia

by Dolores Volpe. Docent. 2000

We see a mother and child in a carved, painted, and gilded frame. The forms look like sculptured relief made out of a white porcelain. The mother has a halo and they are both lovely to look at. She has a sweet loving and gentle appearance and the baby also is very pretty.

Mother and child is another version of the Madonna and the Christ child, so popular at the time known as the "Cult of the Virgin", a time when in the 15th and 16th century many chapels in the homes of wealthy patrons, and the alterpieces in Churches would display the Madonna and child to whom they prayed to in order to intercede on their behalf.

Andrea Della Robbia the sculptor, was the nephew of Luca Della Robbia who was considered a great sculptor and the founder of the family sculpture workshop in Florence, Italy in the 15th century. It was Luca who first applied the art of enamelled terracotta to sculpture. The process of glazing terracotta until that time had been applied only to vases, plates, and other household utensils in Italy.

The history of the process can go back to antiquity, Persians taught it to the Arabs, they in turn brought it to Spain and Sicily. Later on factories were established in Majorica, and in trade with countries along the Mediterranean coast the glazed pottery became known as MaJolica.
By the close of the 14th century the most important potteries in Europe were established in Italy.

The process of glazing the terracotta is interesting, after the clay models are baked, and they do this in sections, it is immersed in a bath of enamel., from which they emerge covered with a thick, course white glaze, which is fired once more to refine it. The parts that are to remain white are baked again, while the parts that are to be colored as an example in the John The Babtist, the leaves, flowers, blue background, are brushed on using colored glazes, and baked again.

The beauty of Luca's and Andrea's work is in the purity of the enamel and the creamy color, and the beauty of its surface.

There is a legend about the composition of the glazes used by the Della Robbias. The story goes that the secret of the glazes died with them and it is believed in Tuscan villages that before Lucas died he wrote their secrets on parchment and hid the parchment in the head of one of his figures. This accounts for so much breakage in the hopes of finding the secrets.

Art historians believe that the secret of the quality of enameled sculpture lie in the great pains that Luca took working with his glazes that he passed down to Andrea, that unfortunately subsequent workers at the DellaRobbia factory did not continue.