Della Robbia ceramics

The workshop: from Luca Della Robbia to Andrea Della Robbia, and then Giovanni

Della Robbia is today a style in which ceramics refer to the original masterpieces of the Della Robbia brothers.

Luca Della Robbia (Florence, Italy 1400-1492) was in fact the artist whose great merit is of being the first to bring about the birth of a whole new style in the history of sculpture, the enameled majolica (or glazed terra cotta). He applied to the art of terra cotta sculpture, a special purpose-made, tin-based glaze, a process know in italian as invetriatura, that soon turned out to be providential for the preservation of delicate and fragile works molded out of "earth".

The technique of glazing was actually very antique - earlier than the Roman world - but Luca was the one who placed it at the service of monumental plastic art that instead needed a very thin kind of glaze, hard to make (before glazing was only used for earthenware and other objects for domestic use). Galzing was born as a necessity for the best protection of the fragile material, but now the possibility to color with a shiny enamel added, to the plastic quality of sculpture, the chromatic ones of painting. The renowned reputation of the ceramics of Luca della Robbia was for the quality of the enamel he used. In fact, their incredible level of brilliance, lucidity, and thickness was not equivalent for that time; above all, if one considers the fact that enamel was not destined to the smooth surfaces of vases and kitchenware, but it had to cover uniformly relieved terra cotta. Therefore it had to be considerably more dense and opaque for not to have the terra cotta show through. At the maximum temperature of baking, the enamel passes to the liquid state, with a tendency to slide along the walls of the terra cotta, leaving the borders uncovered. This was one of the most difficult problems to resolve for the ceramists of that time. The enamel of Luca della Robbia was more white, dense, and covering in respect to the other workshops. This new use of ceramics was derived from the request of the buyers that began to prefer the glazed ceramic for its lucidity, suited for churches immersed in darkness and for its weight, which made it possible to place the works on non robustal bases; and also for its economic price and rapid mass production. It was the first reproducible sculpture. The glazed works of Luca, in consonance with the esthetic preferences of that age are in the classic Della Robbian two-color scheme: white figures on blue backgrounds. Later he began to add more variegated colors schemes such as green, yellow and red, that however were only used in decorative trimmings, in particular for the garlands of plants, in which green leaves were intertwined with rosettes, lilies, quinces, oranges and cucumbers, enriching the deliberately limited palette of the central composition. The heritage of his workshop was passed onto his nephew, Andrea della Robbia, and then on to Giovanni, one of Andrea's five sons.

TODAY the Della Robbia ceramics are reproductions of those masterpieces kept now in museums all over the world and on walls of ancient churches and buildings. Now workshops have few different ways of making the Della Robbia ceramics.
The most common are "a colo" and "a calco". This with the quality of the clay used determines the fineness of the final piece.
The chemical composition of clay is in fact very important and it differs depending on where it is from. The finest and the most renown is the clay from Montelupo, Impruneta and all around the Florentine province. Then the glazing is very important.
The colors of the ceramic shows the quality in the enamel used, the thickness and the chemical composition.
Today Della Robbia is also often negligently used just as a term to indicate a pattern or anything that referrers to the typical fruit garland that surrounds the original majolica pieces of the masters.



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